If Congress does nothing, a new policy will take effect in less than two months that will make it easier than ever for the FBI to infiltrate, monitor, copy data from, inject malware into, and otherwise damage computers remotely.
With the threat of the “Rule 41” changes looming, EFF Senior Staff Attorney Nate Cardozo and EFF Activism Director Rainey Reitman recently flew to DC to speak to policymakers about the future of computer security and the ramifications of government hacking. Over the course of just a few days filled with back-to-back appointments, Nate and Rainey briefed dozens of legislative staffers on not only Rule 41, but the larger issue of government hacking and how the system lacks the necessary safeguards for privacy. They also briefed staff on the upcoming expiration of a law used to justify NSA surveillance of the Internet, Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act.
Nate (pictured right) also participated in a panel discussion for members of the House and their staff, hosted by the Fourth Amendment Advisory Committee on the issue of government hacking and Rule 41. Check out the video.
EFF and our coalition partners have been raising the alarm about the updates to Rule 41 for months, and thousands have joined us in speaking out through our campaign No Global Warrants. The proposed changes to Rule 41 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure—which are set to automatically go into effect on December 1—would make it easier for the government to get a warrant to hack into a computer. Whenever they are investigating a crime and encounter computers using location-obscuring technology, FBI agents would be able to request a warrant from practically any magistrate judge in any district in the United States. This removes one of the key safeguards our judicial system has against forum shopping: namely, that law enforcement must go to judges in the district where crimes actually take place.
These changes would make it easier than ever for FBI agents to seek out prosecution-friendly or technically-naïve judges to sign off on the dangerous hacking warrants. And we know these warrants invite abuse: we’ve already seen cases where a single warrant was used to hack into thousands of computers.
One of the high points of EFF’s trip to DC was delivering letters from more than 35,000 individuals opposing the updates to Rule 41 to Sens. Ron Wyden and Chuck Grassley, alongside our friends at Access Now and Demand Progress.
Accepting the 35,000 petitions, Sen. Wyden warned: “The government is seeking a massive expansion of its hacking and surveillance authority. And these changes will go into effect automatically unless Congress acts by December 1.”
While he noted that this is an incredibly busy time in Congress, it’s nonetheless imperative that our elected officials take up this issue. “When you’re talking about making it possible for one judge with one warrant to hack hundreds of thousands of computers, that is not a small change,” Sen. Wyden stated. “So we’ve got to get this word out.”
The petition delivery was live-streamed on Facebook and you can watch it below. If you’re concerned about the pending updates to Rule 41, please speak out now.