A campaign of organizations consisting of senators from both sides of the aisle, technology companies, and activists are railing against a Rule 41 change which they claim would give the FBI the power to hack computers across the world.
Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 41, more commonly known as Rule 41, is a portion of federal criminal law which discusses proper procedures for searches and seizures. An update to Rule 41 proposed by the Justice Department would allow judges to issue warrants to law enforcement agents to search computers outside the United States.
Justice Department Position
The Justice Department argues that the changes are necessary because criminals are using technology to hide the location of their computers. A blog post from Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell states that “the amendments do not change any of the traditional protections and procedures under the Fourth Amendment.”
Caldwell claims that the rule changes would occur only in two narrow circumstances. The first would be when the criminal is hiding his computer’s location using a VPN, and that this amendment would permit agents to find their location after obtaining more info from server hosts. The second would let agents get a single warrant in case a hacker hit victims across federal districts, instead of getting a separate warrant for each district.
But civil right advocates argue that the language of the rule change is far too vague, and would in effect grant the FBI unlimited authority to hack computers across the world. The ACLU states that “the proposed amendment would significantly expand the government’s authority to conduct remote searches of electronic storage media” and would “raise serious Fourth Amendment questions.”
In addition to the ACLU, the Electronic Freedom Foundation, Google, and web browser Tor are just a few of the groups which have indicated their opposition to the rule change. Like the ACLU, they are concerned about the change’s vague language and how it could unconstitutionally expand the authority of the FBI.
Rule 41: Update to Criminal Procedure
Rule 41 is an update to criminal procedure, and unlike regular laws will go into effect unless Congress votes otherwise by December 1. However, a group of Congressmen including Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), and Representatives John Conyers (D-MI) and Ted Poe (R-TX) have introduced the “Stop Hacking Act” to strike down the Justice Department’s change.