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The U.S. Department of Justice wants easier access to computers of presumed criminals, The Associated Press reported today. Civil rights and privacy advocates are pushing back.
A federal criminal procedure advisory committee will consider updating criminal procedure rules when committee members meet this month.
The DOJ wants federal judges where “activities related to a crime” have occurred to be able to approve search warrants for computers outside of judges’ own districts.
This would allow federal investigators to remotely access the computers of hackers who use computers to hide their locations. Investigators could use the same remote techniques to examine botnets — networks of computers infected with a virus that spill across judicial districts.
Currently, such judges can generally only approve search warrants for property located in the districts they serve.
Critics are voicing concerns. The Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science at Columbia University in New York says:
“With little fanfare, zero congressional review or debate, and barely any public awareness, the FBI is requesting a rule change to gain broad powers to remotely search multiple computers, no matter location, on a single warrant. The implications are far-reaching and apt to affect not only suspected criminals but the innocent as well, including victims of hackers and botnets.”
Other critics of the proposal include the American Civil Liberties Union and Google Inc.
“To the extent that the government has been prevented from doing lots of these kinds of searches because they didn’t necessarily have a judge to go to, this rule change raises the risk that the government will start using these dubious techniques with more frequency,” ACLU attorney Nathan Freed Wessler told the AP.
Google said the proposal “raises a number of monumental and highly complex constitutional, legal and geopolitical concerns that should be left for Congress to decide.”
If approved by the advisory committee, the rules change would go before the U.S. Supreme Court and Congress, the AP reports. As of now, it is slated to take effect in December 2016.