U.S. court rules that FBI can hack into a computer without a warrant

The case involves the FBI arresting a child pornography suspect

A U.S. court has ruled that the FBI can hack into a computer without a warrant -- a move which is troubling privacy advocates.

The criminal case involves a child pornography site, Playpen, that had been accessible through Tor, a browser designed for anonymous web surfing.

The FBI, however, managed to take over the site in 2014, and then tracked down and arrested its members by hacking their computers. This allowed law enforcement to secretly collect their IP addresses.

One of the arrested suspects has argued that the evidence against him had been unlawfully seized. But a  U.S. court in Virginia has ruled in favor of the FBI, according to court documents unsealed on Thursday.

The judge, Henry Morgan, ruled that even though the FBI obtained a warrant to hack into the suspect’s computer, none was needed.

The suspect may have used Tor to keep his browsing anonymous, but his IP address still isn’t private information, the judge wrote in his ruling. This is because the IP address is given out to third parties in order to access the Internet and even the Tor network.

Privacy advocacy group, Electronic Frontier Foundation, is opposed to this part of the ruling.

“The implications for the decision, if upheld, are staggering,” wrote Mark Rumold, an attorney with the group in a blog post. Law enforcement could seize information from a person’s computer without a warrant, probable cause or any suspicion at all, he said.

“To say the least, the decision is bad news for privacy,” he added.

Morgan, however, said in his ruling that the rise of hacking has changed expectations about privacy.

“For example, hacking is much more prevalent now than it was even nine years ago,” he said. “Now, it seems unreasonable to think that a computer connected to the Web is immune from invasion.”

As a result, Tor users “cannot reasonably expect” to be safe from hackers, he added. The FBI also didn’t violate the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution by hacking into the suspect’s computer. Law enforcement should be able to use cutting-edge technology to stop crimes done in secrecy, Morgan said.

Rumold, however, expects that this part of judge’s ruling probably won’t hold up in appeal.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Michael Kan

IDG News Service
Show Comments


James Cook University - Master of Data Science Online Course

Learn more >


Sansai 6-Outlet Power Board + 4-Port USB Charging Station

Learn more >

Victorinox Werks Professional Executive 17 Laptop Case

Learn more >



Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles


PCW Evaluation Team

Louise Coady

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

The printer was convenient, produced clear and vibrant images and was very easy to use

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?