Supreme Court Expands FBI’s Hacking Authority

Uncle Sam may have just gotten a free pass to hack your computer.

According to an article by The New York Times, the Supreme Court has approved a rule change that, if unchallenged by lawmakers, will allow U.S. judges to issue search warrants that grant access to computers in any jurisdiction across the country.

Judges currently only have the authority to order searches of computers and devices within a limited jurisdiction, which usually means only a few counties. This rule change, which the U.S. Justice Department describes as “a minor modification needed to modernize the criminal code for the digital age,” would greatly expand the government’s ability to hack into nearly anyone’s computer, anywhere.

Civil liberties groups and some lawmakers are opposing the rule change. According to NYT, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) is in opposition, characterizing the change as having “significant consequences for Americans’ privacy.” He has vowed to introduce legislation to reverse the ruling. Wyden continued in a statement: “Under the proposed rules, the government would now be able to obtain a single warrant to access and search thousands or millions of computers at once, and the vast majority of the affected computers would belong to the victims, not the perpetrators, of a cybercrime.”

A Justice Department spokesman told NYT that the change was necessary due to the increased use of “anonymizing” technologies that conceal criminal identities online. According to the Justice Department, remote searches, as outlined in the rule change, are the only way to effectively apprehend such suspects.

Congress has until Dec. 1 to reject or modify the changes described in the rule change. If the legislative body does not act, the rules will go into effect.


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