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Still Report #1219 – New Rule Allows FBI To Hack Any Computer Anywhere
The 4th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution provides:
“[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause….”
Fourth Amendment lovers, beware, unless Congress intervenes before Dec. 1, the FBI will soon be given the power to search millions of computers, or cellphones at once, without you knowing it, without probable cause, and even if the FBI doesn’t know where you are, even in foreign countries.
I was first tipped off to this when someone sent me a somewhat confusing report that recently appeared on Fox News concerning the new powers that the Supreme Court has approved for the FBI.
What was not made clear in the Fox report was that this ruling by the Supremes was made on May 1st of this year. Apparently Fox became concerned because there has literally been no news coverage on this issue since then, yet the clock is ticking towards the implementation of the new Rule 41 on Dec. 1st.
The justification for Rule 41 changes seem to stem from cases like a pornography case that appeared earlier this year in federal court in Oklahoma where evidence had to be disallowed due to Rule 41’s limitations.
FBI agents identified child porn downloaders by placing trackers inside a dark-web child porn forum they had created called Playpen. However, many visitors to the porn site anonymized their locations via the TOR network so the FBI couldn’t find them to go serve them with a search warrant.
When they did find them via the tracker, instead of getting a local search warrant, the FBI tried to use a blanket search warrant from a Virginia judge. So, instead of modifying their procedures, the In-Justice Dept. has been lobbying for a change in Rule 41 to allow such blanket searches.
The problem is that many privacy groups believe broadening the powers of the government to search through what could be millions of computers at a time is a “Big Brother” problem.
Let’s say that your computer has been silently compromised by a botnet attack. Since it is then linked in to a web of computers , the FBI could enter your computer because some anonymous evil-doer is also connected as another bot.
Despite the assurances of the In-Justice Department that the change does not actually expand the powers of Rule 41, it only enhances it; According to Richard Salagado – law enforcement and information security director at Google – it will even allow silent searches by the In-Justice Department of anyone, anywhere, and all the information on your computer could be sucked in accidentally.
“… the nature of today’s technology is such that warrants issued under the proposed amendment will in many cases end up authorizing the government to conduct searches outside the United States.”
Very few in Congress understand the issue, and the way the new rule’s implementation is scheduled minimizes Congressional ability to study the issue and respond appropriately. The election is Nov. 8. Only 10 days later, most Congress folk will be headed home for a long Thanksgiving break, many of them will not return to Washington before the Dec. 1 deadline.
Of course, there is no one in the In-Justice Department who would dare to abuse their considerable powers. However still, some privacy advocates see potential problems.
According to Prof. Matt Blaze, a cryptography expert at the University of Pennsylvania:
“If ever there was a job for the Internet Outrage Machine, the Rule 41 changes are it. Allows hacking botnet VICTIMS.”
I’m still reporting from Washington. Good Evening.