If the FBI were to obtain broad powers enabling its agents to hack into thousands of computers all around the world, you’d expect congress to debate and authorize those new powers, right? You might assume congress would seek input from technical experts, and craft careful legislation requiring transparency, accountability, and oversight mechanisms to go along with the expansive new hacking authorization.
But unless we act now, none of that will happen. If we don’t stop it, the FBI will soon possess vast new hacking powers without any strings attached. That’s because the FBI has nearly succeeded in obtaining the new search powers not through an act of congress, following robust and informed debate, but rather through a procedural rule change.
As advocacy groups including the ACLU describe in a letter to congress about the proposed rule change,
The changes to Rule 41 give federal magistrate judges across the United States new authority to issue warrants for hacking and surveillance in cases where a computer’s location is unknown. This would invite law enforcement to seek warrants authorizing them to hack thousands of computers at once—which it is hard to imagine would not be in direct violation of the Fourth Amendment. It would also take the unprecedented step of allowing a court to issue a warrant to hack into the computers of innocent Internet users who are themselves victims of a botnet. This proposal is dangerously broad. It fails to provide appropriate guidelines for safeguarding privacy and security, and it circumvents the legislative process that would provide Congress and the public the critically necessary opportunity to evaluate these issues.
Security experts have decried the changes to Rule 41, stating that increased government hacking will likely have unintended consequences that cause serious damage to computer security and negatively impact innocent users.
The FBI says it needs these broad new powers to deal with 21st century nuisances like botnets and malware farms. And those are real problems. But the solution to those very real problems cannot be to ram through a digital general warrant authorization that will violate privacy and civil liberties, and even potentially make internet users less secure. We especially shouldn’t allow this kind of massive legal overhaul absent any meaningful debate or congressionally-established limits on the new power.
We only have until December 1, 2016 to stop this rule change from going into effect. Take action now, and spread the word.