U.S. Supreme Court Grants Wider FBI Surveillance Powers

The U.S. Supreme Court passed a new rule granting federal judges the right to issue warrants on computers outside of their jurisdiction, greatly expanding the FBI’s powers of surveillance.

Congress now has until Dec. 1 to pass a bill to stop the rule, or else it automatically goes into effect as part of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, which govern every federal prosecution across the country, reported the New York Post.

Under the current rule, federal judges, in most cases, can only order searches and seizures within their own jurisdictions. Now, under the new rules, a magistrate can OK a warrant to hack into a computer—in an unknown location under technical concealment—and take control of its data.

For example, a federal judge on the East Cost would be able to issue a warrant to FBI agents on the West Coast to get into a computer—without knowing its real location, the Post said.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., was critical of the new rule: “These amendments will have significant consequences for Americans’ privacy and the scope of the government’s powers to conduct remote surveillance and searches of electronic devices,” Wyden told The Washington Post 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,” Wyden said.

Some major technology companies have also criticized the proposed changes, arguing they threaten to “undermine the privacy rights and computer security of Internet users.” Google has stated that U.S. officials would “likely” use the altered rules to search computers overseas, reported Reuters.

“Even if the intent of the proposed change is to permit U.S. authorities to obtain a warrant to directly access and retrieve data only from computers and devices within the United States, there is nothing in the proposed change to Rule 41 that would prevent access to computers and devices worldwide,” the company stated back in February.

Meanwhile, privacy activists and tech organizations have also raised concerns, including Kevin Bankston of the Open Technology Institute.“Whatever euphemism the FBI uses to describe it—whether they call it a ‘remote access search’ or a ‘network investigative technique’—what we’re talking about is government hacking,” he said to the Intercept, “and this obscure rule change would authorize a whole lot more of it.”

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