In what civil liberties groups are claimed as a power grab, the FBI is attempting to persuade an ambiguous regulatory body in Washington to change its rules of engagement. The changes would give the FBI to seize significant new powers, allowing them to hack into computers and carry out surveillance of computers both in the U.S. and around the world.
Opposition to the Proposed Amendment
According to civil liberties group, the FBI is attempting to enlarge its power while staying out of the public eye, avoiding debate and input congress. The FBI sent their petition to the Advisory Committee on Criminal Rules, which is part of the Justice Department.
Civil liberties groups are sounding alarms, warning that the proposed rule changes threaten strict limits on search and seizures already in place by the Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution. They also have expressed concerns that the rule changes would lead to an invasion of privacy. The Advisory Committee on Criminal Rules met for the first time on November 5th to take up the FBI’s request.
Ahmed Ghappour, an expert in computer law at the University of California, Hastings college of the law addressed the hearing. He is quoted as saying, “This is a giant step forward for the FBI’s operational capabilities, without any consideration of the policy implications. To be seeking these powers at a time of heightened international concern about US surveillance is an especially brazen and potentially dangerous move,”
“This is an extremely invasive technique,” said Chris Soghoian, principal technologist of the American Civil Liberties Union, who was also present at the November hearing. “We are talking here about giving the FBI a green light to hack into any computer in the country or around the world.”
Civil liberties and privacy groups are alarmed that the FBI is seeking to expand its reach in such a broad way and via an arcane committee.
“This is an investigative technique that we haven’t seen before, and we haven’t thrashed out the implications. It absolutely should not be done through a rule change – it has to be fully debated publicly, and Congress must be involved.” – Jennifer Granick, director of civil liberties at the Stanford center for internet and society.
The proposed changes are related to rule 41 of the federal rules of criminal procedure. Rule 41 are the terms under which the FBI is allowed to conduct searches under court-approved warrants. Currently, warrants have to be focused on specific locations, supposedly where the criminal activity is occurring and approved by judges located in the same district.
The propose changes would allow a judge to issue a warrant that allowed the FBI to hack into any computer regardless of the location. This amendment is aimed directly at computers that have been “anonymized” by using the services such as Tor.
The amendment allows a judge to issue a warrant for “remote access” to computers “located within or outside that district” in which the “district where the media or information is located has been concealed through technological means”
If the amendment is granted by the regulatory committee, the FBI will be allowed to use its “network investigative techniques” on computers around the globe. They do this by surreptitiously installing malware onto a computer and giving federal agents control of the machine. They can download all the information on your computer, turn on and off your microphone and webcam. They can even take control of other computers within the infected computers network.
Perhaps the push for this amendment is because of the recent case with Ross Ulbricht, the alleged founder of Silk Road. Experts believe the FBI hacked into the Silk Road server located in Iceland though the agency still denies this. However, the US prosecutors have claimed that even if the server was hacked with a warrant – it was – it would have been justified as “a search of foreign property known to contain criminal evidence, for which a warrant was not necessary”.
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