Senators fail to stop new rules allowing US law-enforcement hacking

New authority for law enforcement agencies to hack computers across jurisdictional lines goes into effect Thursday

Three senators' efforts to stop a major expansion of U.S. law enforcement agencies' hacking powers has failed for now.

Proposed changes to Rule 41, the search-and-seizure provision in the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, will go into effect Thursday barring any last-minute action in Congress. 

The rules change will give U.S. law enforcement agencies the authority to cross jurisdictional lines and hack computers anywhere in the world during criminal investigations. Until now, the rules, in most cases, prohibited federal judges from issuing a search warrant outside their jurisdictions. 

The Department of Justice has called for the changes as a way to track criminal using anonymizer technology to shield the location of their computers or smartphones.

The rules change, approved by the Supreme Court in April at the request of the DOJ, would give law enforcement agencies broad authority to hack into devices owned by U.S. residents, said Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat.

Yet, there's been virtually no debate in Congress about the proposal, Wyden said. Congress should vote "so that the American people can actually determine if their senators support authorizing unprecedented, sweeping government hacking without even a single hearing," he said. 

On Wednesday morning, Wyden and two other senators attempted to pass one of three bills to stop or delay the rules change, approved by the Supreme Court in April at the request of the Department of Justice.

Wyden, along with Senators Christopher Coons, a Delaware Democrat, and Steve Daines, a Montana Republican, tried to get the Senate to pass each one of the bills by unanimous consent. But Senator John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, objected to their motions, stopping the bills from moving forward.

The rules change was the result of a lengthy discussion in the U.S. court system, Cornyn said. U.S. residents' privacy will be protected because law enforcement agencies still need to get a search warrant before hacking into computers, he said.

"You still have to go before a judge," Cornyn added. "You still have to show probable cause" of a crime.

FBI Director James Comey has supported the rules change, saying it would give law enforcement agencies a valuable tool to fight crime.

"In complex computer crime cases, [the inability to search remote computers] is problematic for some of our most important investigations," he said in May. FBI investigations can be hampered "if we have to go to dozens of different magistrate judges in a botnet case, or if we’re unable to go to a magistrate judge because we can’t say for sure where the computer is."

Wyden predicted that U.S. residents will demand that Congress roll back the changes when they realize how sweeping the new powers are. Congress can still act to kill the new authority after it goes into effect.

The rules change taking effect Thursday should "send a shiver down the spine of all Americans," Daines added. "Our civil liberties ... can be chipped away little by little until we barely recognize them anymore. We simply can't give unlimited power for unlimited hacking."

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.

Grant Gross

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

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.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

David Coyle

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

I rate the printer as a 5 out of 5 stars as it has been able to fit seamlessly into my busy and mobile lifestyle.

Kurt Hegetschweiler

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

It’s perfect for mobile workers. Just take it out — it’s small enough to sit anywhere — turn it on, load a sheet of paper, and start printing.

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?