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Unless Stopped, FBI's Mass Hacking Could Be Legalized December 1

Earlier this year, the Judicial Conference (the national policy-making body for the federal courts) approved changes to “Rule 41” that would allow the FBI and other law enforcement agencies to hack anyone in any jurisdiction in the U.S., and even globally. Fight for the Future, along with the EFF and other civil liberties groups, are calling on everyone to ask their senators to pass a law to stop the rule change from going into effect on December 1.

The FBI has recently started employing mass hacking tactics against thousands of computers at once as a “modern investigative technique.” The new tactic came to light during the recent Playpen case, which revealed that the FBI hacked over 8,000 computers in 20 countries.

According to Fight for the Future, anyone who uses encryption, a VPN, the Tor browser, disables location tracking, or is the victim of a botnet, could also become a target of FBI’s hacking efforts. That’s because the new rule 41 changes allow judges to issue warrants that would give law enforcement remote access and the ability to search, seize, and copy data when “the district where the media or information is located has been concealed through technological means.”

The EFF also argued that the real problem is the change allows any judge in the U.S. to issue warrants for any other jurisdiction in the country. Civil liberties groups believe that this would encourage law enforcement agencies to engage in “forum shopping,” which involves obtaining warrants from friendly judges, or from judges that may not fully understand the technical implications of the government’s requests.

The EFF has argued that the Rule 41 changes are not just the simple procedural changes that the Judicial Conference normally enacts, but changes that significantly expand FBI’s hacking powers. The EFF has argued that Congress, not the Supreme Court, should’ve decided this sort of hacking power expansion.

The new rule 41 changes go into effect on December 1 at midnight, which leaves little time for Congress to act and pass a law to stop the changes. However, the civil liberties groups recommend everyone could still contact their senators and ask them to vote yes on the “Stopping Mass Hacking Act.”

Lucian Armasu
Lucian Armasu is a Contributing Writer for Tom's Hardware US. He covers software news and the issues surrounding privacy and security.