Justice Department Wants The Power To Search Computers Everywhere

The Justice Department is seeking approval to make obtaining search warrants a whole lot easier. If the judicial advisory committee approves the request, submitted the day after the Republican takeover of the Senate, Eric Holder’s Department of Justice will reportedly be able to “hack” into and locate computer devices regardless of their location.

Federal regulations currently permit judges to only issue a search warrant if the proposed search is within their jurisdiction. If the Justice Department prevails, judges will have the power to issue electronic information search warrants no matter where the computer or device is located. The regulation would allow the Department of Justice to locate and hack into computer devices not only around the country, but around the world.

Excerpt from the National Review report on the Justice Department search warrant request.

“The provision, known as Rule 41 of the federal rules of criminal procedure, typically allows judges to issue search warrants only within their judicial district. But the government has asked to alter this restriction to allow judges to approve electronic surveillance to find and search a computer’s contents regardless of its physical location, even if the device is suspected of being abroad.”

The Department of Justice electronic information search warrants violate protections assured under the Fourth Amendment, according to University of California Hastings College of Law legal researcher Ahmed Ghappour. “It’s like turning on a switch, but instead of turning on a faucet, it’s like turning on a fire hose,” the legal scholar said. The unintended consequences of the search warrant regulation requests could give the federal government the power to “spy on computer networks” in other nations, Ghappour added.

Eric Holder’s Department of Justice made the electronic search warrant request not long after he deemed private data encryption by some technology companies “worrisome.” The attorney general maintains that such encryption would prevent law enforcement agencies from tracking criminals and hacking into their smartphones.

The judicial advisory committee reportedly questioned witnesses about the matter “aggressively” on Wednesday. The members wanted to know what alternative would be preferable when it comes to allowing federal investigators the power to monitor and catch cyber criminals. Critics of the electronic devices search warrant request stated that such a substantial rule change should be heard by Congress and not an “obscure regulatory panel.”

“I empathize that it is very hard to get a legislative change. However, when you have us resorting to Congress to get increased privacy protections, we would also like to see the government turn to Congress to get increased surveillance authority,” senior policy counsel with digital freedom group Access, Amie Stepanovich, said.

What do you think about the federal government being able to get search warrants for computer devices without the signature of a local judge?

[Image via Shutterstock.com]