The Judicial Conference Advisory Committee on Criminal rules is considering an FBI request to loosen restrictions on how it obtains search warrants. Under current law, law enforcement must get authorization from a judge located within the same district they wish to search.
If the Feds want to raid a house in Poughkeepsie, they have to get permission from a judge in Poughkeepsie.
But the Justice Department claims that this unnecessarily hinders investigation in the new digital age, where criminals can conceal their exact location.
“Criminal suspects are increasingly using sophisticated anonymizing technologies and proxy services designed to hide their true IP addresses,” the National Association of Assistant US Attorney’s wrote in a letter to the judicial committee. “This creates significant difficulties for law enforcement to identify the district in which the electronic information or an electronic device is located.”
The FBI wants to amend the law so that any district affected by a crime can issue a warrant for electronic data, even if that data is based outside of that district, outside of that state, or even outside of the country.
Enter Google, the tech giant currently standing up for Internet privacy. While the DOJ insists that the proposed regulations would not extend beyond international borders, Google points out that that’s an impossible guarantee.
In their own letter to the committee, Google wrote that “the nature of today’s technology is such that warrants issued under the proposed amendment will in many cases end up authorizing the government to conduct searches outside the United States.”
The company also points to a recent example in which a judge in South Texas denied a law enforcement request to hack into a computer “whose location was unknown, but whose IP address was most recently associated with a country in Southeast Asia.”
Google argues that the FBI’s request to remotely search any computer which conceals its identity could create “monumental and highly complex constitutional, legal, and geopolitical concerns that should be left to Congress to decide.”
Such broad power would essentially give the FBI the ability to spy on any computer server in the world, threatening both innocent web users, as well as US diplomatic relations.
“The US has long recognized the sovereignty of nations,” Google wrote. “The jurisdiction of law enforcement agents does not extend beyond a nation’s borders.”
While it may be the most vocal opponent in the tech world, Google isn’t the only organization expressing their concerns about the new proposals. The American Civil Liberties Union also wrote a letter to the judicial committee.
“We continue to have serious concerns about the breadth of the proposed amendment,” the ACLU wrote, adding that the committee should “proceed with extreme caution before expanding the government’s authority to conduct remote electronic searches,” and that “the proposed amendment would significantly expand the government’s authority to conduct searches that raise troubling and wide-ranging constitutional, statutory, and policy questions.”
Digital privacy concerns have come to the forefront ever since Edward Snowden revealed the extent of the NSA’s spying capabilities. The FBI has also developed its own surveillance over the past 15 years, and can regularly and easily hack into target computers, gaining both control of the machine and access to private information.