Amended federal rule gives FBI unlimited hacking powers

On Thursday, the FBI was given additional authority to hack into computers, phones and other personal devices with a single warrant. The rule was amended to its current state by the Committee on the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure and the Supreme Court established the legality of the new rule in a private vote.

Before Rule 41 went into effect at the beginning of December, the FBI would have to a obtain warrant from a magistrate judge located in the district where the device they wished to hack was located. Now, with only one warrant from the same judge, the FBI can hack into millions of devices located anywhere in the U.S., or even internationally.

Many privacy advocates are concerned about these expanded powers, including Daniel Schuman, a policy director at Demand Progress, who contends an “already over-powerful surveillance state” will be “be let loose on the American people.”

Several senators from both sides of the aisle were also concerned, and tried in vain to block the amended rule.

“By sitting here and doing nothing, the Senate has given consent to this expansion of government hacking and surveillance,” said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). “Law-abiding Americans are going to ask ‘what were you guys thinking?’ when the FBI starts hacking victims of a botnet hack. Or when a mass hack goes awry and breaks their device, or an entire hospital system and puts lives at risk.”

However, a majority of Republicans wanted the expanded powers, and the senators’ last-ditch efforts amounted to nothing but headlines. The Justice Department, which pushed for the amended rule, believes wide-ranging authority is necessary to stop criminal enterprises such as drug rings and child exploitation. U.S. Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell explained her support in a public blog post:

“The possibility of such harm must be balanced against the very real and ongoing harms perpetrated by criminals — such as hackers, who continue to harm the security and invade the privacy of Americans through an ongoing botnet, or pedophiles who openly and brazenly discuss their plans to sexually assault children,” Caldwell wrote.

Despite the outrage, it looks like the new powers awarded to the FBI are not going away anytime soon. It would take legislation passed by both the House and Senate and then signed by the president to end what is essentially a blank hacking check.

Based on the Republican held legislation and president-elect Trump’s reactions to privacy issues, any opposition is dead in the water.


[Reuters] [Christian Science Monitor] [Bloomberg]  [USA Today] [The Guardian]  [Image via Gizmodo]