The Justice Department has applied to the Administration Office of U.S. Courts, Advisory Committee on Criminal Rules, to change its rules of engagement under Criminal Rule 41, in an attempt to grant the FBI additional powers to hack and spy on computers, ad infinitum.
Criminal Rule 41 lays out the terms under which the FBI is allowed to conduct searches under court-approved warrants. As now written, the warrants have to be highly focused on specific locations where suspected criminal activity is occurring and approved by judges located in that same district.
The Justice Department’s wants to change Criminal Rule 41 by inserting a clause that would allow judges to issue warrants to gain “remote access” to computers “located within or outside that district” in cases in which the “district where the media or information is located has been concealed through technological means,” hidden using tools such as Tor. In support of the Rule change, the DOJ claims that new warrants issued to authorize FBI hacking into computers whose location was unknown would “support the reasonableness of the search.”
This “minor little change” would give the FBI the green light to “legally” unleash its “network investigative techniques” on computers by installing malicious software or malware on a computer that in turn allows their agents to control that computer, downloading all its digital contents, switching on its camera or microphone remotely and even taking over other computers in its network. According to reporter Sharyl Attkisson the government is already illegally using these techniques to bully those that dare to defy them.
Ahmed Ghappour, an expert in computer law at the University of California, Hastings College of law, says that for the FBI “to be seeking these powers at a time of heightened international concern about U.S. surveillance is an especially brazen and potentially dangerous move.” This Rule change amounts to “possibly the broadest expansion of extraterritorial surveillance powers since the FBI’s inception. For the first time the courts will be asked to issue warrants allowing searches outside the country. In the age of cyber attacks, this sort of thing can scale up pretty quickly.”
Civil liberties and privacy groups are alarmed that the FBI is seeking such a huge step up using a “backdoor” route instead of bring this into the public forum for debate and allowing Congress to be involved. Considering that Congress votes for extention of the Patriot Act, does it really matter if they are involved?
The Advisory Committee will meet for the first time today (November 5) to discuss the issue with a slew of technology experts and privacy advocates before caving to the Justice Department.