The FBI Just Became the World’s Most Powerful Hacker


New amendments to Rule 41 of the Federal Rules of the Criminal Procedure means that the FBI can now access multiple locations – anywhere in the world – with a federal judge approved warrant.

A controversial rule change that came into effect last week will make it easier for the FBI to engage in complex surveillance of one or multiple computers in the United States or any other country in the world.

Until last week, the government could only conduct searches of computers located in the district where the warrant was granted by a federal judge. ‘Rule 41’ is the expanded search power that allows the FBI and other law enforcement agencies to go beyond district or even international lines.

Privacy and civil liberties groups have expressed concern over Rule 41, pointing to a significant expansion of a government’s surveillance powers. The CDT, or the Center of Democracy & Technology has argued that the new rule violates the Fourth Amendment, while adding that ‘forum shopping’ is a very real possibility. This is a practice wherein agents could obtain warrants from any district judge more inclined to approve such applications.  

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, or EFF, wrote the following back in April 2016 when Rule 41 was initially proposed.

[The rule] would grant authority to practically any judge to issue a search warrant to remotely access, seize, or copy data relevant to a crime when a computer was using privacy-protective tools to safeguard one’s location. Many different commonly used tools might fall into this category.

Users of Tor or even a VPN would fall under the category, the EFF stated.

The controversial rule has seen a bipartisan group of lawmakers call for the half of the new powers enforced by Rule 41, at least until Congress has had sufficient time to study it.

Approved to go into effect on Dec. 1., Rule 41 was initially proposed as a part of a regular review of criminal procedure conducted by a conference of federal judges. Several years passed while weighing the rule during a public comment period before the conference submitted the suggested rule change to Supreme Court. Unopposed, the rule is now in effect, essentially granting law enforcement agencies like the FBI, the power to launch surveillance or compromise any computer in the world, legally. 

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