Despite a last-minute effort to halt the change, federal investigators received expansive powers on December 1. Reuters reports, “Democratic Senator Ron Wyden attempted three times to delay the changes, which… allow U.S. judges [to] be able to issue search warrants that give the FBI the authority to remotely access computers in any jurisdiction, potentially even overseas…
In a speech from the Senate floor, Wyden said that the changes to Rule 41 of the federal rules of criminal procedure amounted to ‘one of the biggest mistakes in surveillance policy in years.’” Adding
“The government will have ‘unprecedented authority to hack into Americans’ personal phones, computers and other devices.’”
Fortune reports, “The expanded search power… is intended to make it easier for the FBI to carry out complex computer investigations.”
Prior to the modification, federal judges were only allowed to issue warrants that covered that judicial district, meaning a judge in the Northern District of California could not issue a warrant for the FBI to search the computer of someone outside of that 14 county district.
Fortune adds, “Some of [the] defendants [in the Playpen investigations] have successfully challenged their arrest on the grounds they lived outside of the area described in the warrant.”
And prosecutors, especially those who have risen to the federal level, loathe having evidence dismissed due to what they see as a technicality. U.S. Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell reportedly wrote that the benefits given to authorities from the rule changes outweighed any potential for “unintended harm.”
Not everyone agrees with Caldwell, and several civil liberties groups are worried, rightfully so, that the change to Rule 41 “represents a dangerous expansion of the government’s surveillance power, and will lead law enforcement bodies to ‘forum shop’—seeking warrants in districts where a judge is most likely to grant them,” according to Fortune.
This change to Rule 41 should alarm everyone, not just those who are “breaking the law,” though with so many laws it’s difficult to not violate one of them. By the way, sharing your Netflix password or creating a back-up account on facebook are both technically illegal. Reuters adds, President-elect Donald Trump “has ‘openly said he wants the power to hack his political opponents the same way Russia does.’”
I only hope that the expansion of Rule 41 and Trump’s impending threats to target dissidents does not silence those who are opposed to the authoritarianism that embodies the United States Federal Government.