A Virginia federal judge has ruled that content on home computers connected to the internet should have no expectation of privacy because hackers can always find a way to break computer security.
The ruling came on June 23 in relation to a case where the FBI hacked PlayPen a secret network trafficking in child pornography. The FBI obtained a warrant to hack the network and installed software that infiltrated the computers connected to it to find their internet addresses.
The FBI hack led to the prosecution of hundreds of individuals. The hack was objected to on legal grounds because a large number of personal computers were hacked through the use of a single warrant.
Senior U.S. District Judge Henry Coke Morgan Jr. upheld the warrant and the case and ruled that the warrant was not even necessary because there was no guarantee of privacy for computers connected to the internet.
“It is clear to the Court that Defendant took great strides to hide his IP address via his use of the Tor network,” the judge wrote in the ruling. “However, the court finds that any such subjective expectation of privacy—if one even existed in this case—is not objectively reasonable.”
Previous courts have ruled in the past that privacy on home computers is objectively reasonable. However, Judge Morgan said in his ruling that the rapidly changing nature of network technology has made any expectation of privacy obsolete.
“[H]acking is much more prevalent now than it was even nine years ago, and the rise of computer hacking via the Internet has changed the public’s reasonable expectations of privacy,” the judge wrote. “Now, it seems unreasonable to think that a computer connected to the Web is immune from invasion. Indeed, the opposite holds true: In today’s digital world, it appears to be a virtual certainty that computers accessing the Internet can—and eventually will—be hacked.”
Digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation said that this concession leaves the door open to abuses to the Fourth Amendment.
“The Justice Department has a practice of carving out novel legal interpretations and then advancing them in court,” Andrew Crocker, a staff attorney for EFF told eWEEK. “I would not be surprised if they did try to rely on the idea that they don’t need a warrant for this type of hacking.”