Supreme Court Gives FBI More Hacking Power

The Intercept, By Jenna McLaughlin, April 28

The Supreme Court on Thursday approved changes that would make it easier for the FBI to hack into computers, including those belonging to victims of cybercrime. The changes will take effect in December, unless Congress adopts competing legislation.

Previously, under the federal rules on criminal procedures, a magistrate judge couldn’t approve a warrant request to search a computer remotely if the investigator didn’t know where the computer was—because it might be outside his or her jurisdiction.

The rule change, sent in a letter to Congress on Thursday, would allow a magistrate judge to issue a warrant to search or seize an electronic device regardless of where it is, if the target of the investigation is using anonymity software like Tor to cloak their location. Over a million people use Tor to browse popular websites like Facebook every month for perfectly legitimate reasons, in addition to criminals who use it to hide their locations.

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  • Secret Text in Senate Bill Would Give FBI Warrantless Access to Email Records

    The Intercept, By Jenna McLaughlin, May 26

    A provision snuck into the still-secret text of the Senate’s annual intelligence authorization would give the FBI the ability to demand individuals’ email data and possibly web-surfing history from their service providers without a warrant and in complete secrecy.

    If passed, the change would expand the reach of the FBI’s already highly controversial national security letters. The FBI is currently allowed to get certain types of information with NSLs — most commonly, information about the name, address, and call data associated with a phone number or details about a bank account.

    Since a 2008 Justice Department legal opinion, the FBI has not been allowed to use NSLs to demand “electronic communication transactional records,” such as email subject lines and other metadata, or URLs visited.

    The spy bill passed the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday, with the provision in it. The lone no vote came from Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who wrote in a statement that one of the bill’s provisions “would allow any FBI field office to demand email records without a court order, a major expansion of federal surveillance powers.”

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