Rule 41: Government hackers coming for you

“The U.S. government wants to use an obscure procedure—amending a federal rule known as Rule 41— to radically expand their authority to hack,” the Electronic Frontier Foundation says. “The changes to Rule 41 would make it easier for them to break into our computers, take data, and engage in remote surveillance.”

As we showed you when this first came to light, this rule change will make it easier for law enforcement to get warrants to hack into computers and engage in remote surveillance (i.e. taking over a device and using it to surveil any target).

The Department of Justice says there is nothing to see here, and you crazy privacy-loving citizens should get over yourselves and move along, plus, this only applies to a very few cases… like stopping child exploitation.

Commendable if true … but the new rules also effectively wipe out the requirement to give a copy of the warrant to the person whose computers are being hacked.  So this rule change will result in judges granting a single search warrant that can be used to remotely search thousands of computers, and for the first time ever judges will be letting law enforcement hack into the devices of botnet victims.

The EFF adds: “If this rule change is not stopped, anyone who is using any technological means to safeguard their location privacy could find themselves suddenly in the jurisdiction of a prosecutor-friendly or technically-naïve judge, anywhere in the country.“

The FBI has long abused its surveillance powers, and endeavored to avoid strict oversight.

Also, as writes: “… we should always be skeptical when law enforcement starts throwing out ‘sexually exploited children!’ and ‘terrorism!’ as reasons to upend existing rules. Especially when they cover something as important as how broadly the FBI and DOJ can hack into people’s computers.”

Unscrupulous law enforcement entities will inevitably use this new rule to pressure judges, find friendly courts, and eventually increase their exploitation of security vulnerabilities in common software products. They might even force vulnerabilities that could affect millions to be left open instead of patched.

It’s all getting pushed through an obscure procedural process, not legislation. A judicial panel approved the DOJ’s proposed changes, and the Supreme Court gave its blessing a month later. So if Congress does nothing it will automatically go into effect on December 1st.

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Kelley Martin