Supreme Court: FBI Hacking Ability To Be Expanded By Court Ruling

The Supreme Court made a ruling on Thursday that will allow the FBI, and other law enforcement agencies, to expand their ability and scope when it comes to hacking into computers wherever they may be. Even though the Supreme Court issued the ruling, Congress needs to approve it due to the fact that it will expand the powers of law enforcement.

Prior to Thursday’s ruling, warrants could only be issued by federal judges within their own jurisdictions. This new ruling allows any federal judge to issue a warrant for searching a computer and eliminates the lines of jurisdiction. Computers could be hacked and searched anywhere in the world as long as a federal judge signs off on it.

A case in Oklahoma has shown the need for this type of rule change. Evidence in a child pornography had to be thrown out due to the fact that a warrant for the evidence was not properly authorized. FBI agents had found people on the dark web who were trafficking in child pornography. A federal judge in Virginia gave the FBI a warrant to collect evidence. The reason the evidence in Oklahoma was thrown out was because a judge in Oklahoma did not authorize a warrant. Nicholas Weaver cybersecurity researcher at UC Berkeley’s International Computer Science Institute commented to Politico about the ruling.

“Why should the rule be ‘You can hack a computer with a warrant if you know where it is but not when you don’t?’”

Debate on this alteration is already starting in Congress. Some lawmakers believe that this is going to be a slippery slope that leads to civil rights violations and unregulated government hacking. Senator Ron Wyden is one of the senators that has gone public in saying that this ruling is not a good idea.

“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. These are complex issues involving privacy, digital security and our Fourth Amendment rights, which require thoughtful debate and public vetting.”

Congress has until December 1, 2016, to rule on this new authority.

One large issue that could arise with these expanded powers could come during an investigation of a cybercrime network. The potential exists for the FBI to able to hack and search millions of computers at once while conducting an investigation into a cybercrime network. Cybercriminals use malware and other types of cyber deceit to take over computers of people who have no idea that their computer has been compromised. These computers create a botnet. If the FBI is able to hack and search computers in a botnet then the FBI has access to computers of people who have not committed a crime.

The Department of Justice has been pushing for this type of reform for years. They hail the decision as a way to finally allow the FBI the tools necessary to infiltrate and take down users of the dark web and the Tor network.

In 2015, Google, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and other privacy groups collaborated on a letter that explained that any expansion of this type of authority would be a violation of the Fourth Amendment. The letter was drafted by Google’s law enforcement and information security director Richard Salgado. The full letter can be found here.

“Despite [the Justice Department’s] weak assurance that the amendment does ‘not purport’ to expand the current scope of Rule 41. In reality it will: the nature of today’s technology is such that warrants issued under the proposed amendment will in many cases end up authorizing the government to conduct searches outside the United States.”

Do you think the Supreme Court has overstepped their bounds in granting the FBI more power?

[Image Via Shutterstock/A. and I. Kruk]