A proposed change to an obscure federal procedural rule “would be a massive expansion of government hacking”, Sen. Ron Wyden said in a speech Thursday.
Wyden, who has introduced a bill to prevent the change, said that the proposed modification to Rule 41 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure is not the small administrative change that the government has described. The rule concerns search and seizure limits and the change that the government is seeking would allow a judge to issue a search warrant for remote devices located anywhere in the United States. The proposed change to Rule 41 has drawn the ire of privacy advocates and security experts, who say it would give the government far too much power to hack not only suspects’ devices, but also devices belonging to victims of computer attacks.
The change would go into effect in December unless Congress takes action to prevent it, something that Wyden said should happen. Speaking at an event held by New America Thursday, Wyden said the change would be a huge one.
“We know that Rule 41 would be a massive expansion of government hacking, putting at risk the liberty of the American people. There’s no telling what kind of impact secret government malware could have on our devices, on the networks that run our hospitals, electric grids and transportation systems,” Wyden said.
“The changes leave Americans more exposed and of course put at risk their liberty.”
A number of technology and civil liberties companies have come out in opposition to the potential change to Rule 41, saying that it would violate the Constitution and give law enforcement agencies too much power.
“The changes to Rule 41 give federal magistrate judges across the United States new authority to issue warrants for hacking and surveillance in cases where a computer’s location is unknown. This would invite law enforcement to seek warrants authorizing them to hack thousands of computers at once—which it is hard to imagine would not be in direct violation of the Fourth Amendment,” a letter sent to Congress by Google, the EFF and others, says.
Wyden said that if the Rule 41 changes are allowed to take effect, the consequences could be painful for many Americans.
“If untested, sloppy hacking techniques are unleashed on the public on a broad scale there’s no telling what the damage could be. If these changes go into effect there will be no guidelines for the privacy and security of the American people to be protected,” he said.