Supreme Court Approves Rule 41 Changes, Putting FBI Closer To Searching Any Computer Anywhere With A Single Warrant

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Supreme Court Approves Rule 41 Changes, Putting FBI Closer To Searching Any Computer Anywhere With A Single Warrant

from the impeccable-timing dept
The DOJ is one step closer to being allowed to remotely access computers anywhere in the world using a normal search warrant issued by a magistrate judge. The proposed amendments to Rule 41 remove jurisdiction limitations, which would allow the FBI to obtain a search warrant in, say, Virginia, and use it to "search" computers across the nation using Network Investigative Techniques (NITs). 

This won't save evidence obtained in some high-profile cases linked to the FBI's two-week gig as child porn site administrators. Two judges have ruled that the warrants obtained in this investigation are void due to Rule 41(b) jurisdiction limitations. (Another has reached the same conclusion in an unrelated case in Kansas). The amendments recently approved by the US Supreme Court would strip away the jurisdiction limitation, making FBI NIT use unchallengeable, at least on jurisdiction grounds.
Rule 41. Search and Seizure 

(b) Venue for a Warrant Application. At the request of a federal law enforcement officer or an attorney for the government: 

(6) a magistrate judge with authority in any district where activities related to a crime may have occurred has authority to issue a warrant to use remote access to search electronic storage media and to seize or copy electronically stored information located within or outside that district if: 

(A) the district where the media or information is located has been concealed through technological means; or 

(B) in an investigation of a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1030(a)(5), the media are protected computers that have been damaged without authorization and are located in five or more districts.
The DOJ claims the updates are needed because suspects routinely anonymize their connections, making it difficult to determine where they're actually located. Opponents of the changes point out that this significantly broadens the power of magistrate judges, who would now be able to approve search warrants targeting any computer anywhere in the world. 

Supreme Court Approves Rule 41 Changes, Putting FBI Closer To Searching Any Computer Anywhere With A Single Warrant

The real problem, though, is this: there's no significant Congressional opposition (save Ron Wyden) to the proposed amendments.
“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. I plan to introduce legislation to reverse these amendments shortly, and to request details on the opaque process for the authorization and use of hacking techniques by the government,” said Wyden. 

“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. These are complex issues involving privacy, digital security and our Fourth Amendment rights, which require thoughtful debate and public vetting. Substantive policy changes like these are clearly a job for Congress, the American people and their elected representatives, not an obscure bureaucratic process.”
Worse, the amendments will be adopted if Congress does what it frequently does best: nothing. Congress actually needs to take action to block the amendments, but seeing as it only has until December 1, 2016, to do it, it seems highly unlikely that it will make the effort to do so -- not during an election year and certainly not during the annual struggle of approving a budget. 

On the bright side, Ron Wyden is generally pretty good at mobilizing opposition, even when there appears to be little support for his efforts. We can also expect a variety of civil liberties groups and activists to start pushing Congress to "opt out" of the proposed changes.
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