Google is warning that a US government plan to expand the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s hacking powers is a monumental constitutional threat.
The federal government wants to make it easier for the FBI to hack into computers of Internet users who seek to keep their online activities anonymous.
At issue is Rule 41 of the federal rules of criminal procedure, which sets the terms under which the FBI is authorized to carry out searches and surveillance via court-approved warrants. Under existing language, warrants must specifically target precise locations where suspected criminal activity is occurring. Warrants must also be approved by judges in the same district where the suspected crime is occurring.
The proposed amendment would allow judges to issue warrants allowing the FBI to hack into any computer, regardless of location. The FBI claims the rule change would help federal investigators conduct surveillance of anonymized computers, whose locations have been concealed using tools such as the Internet anonymity network Tor
In a strongly-worded 14-page letter to the US government, Richard Salgado, Google’s director for information security and law enforcement, said the proposed amendment raises a number of monumental and highly complex constitutional, legal and geopolitical concerns that should be left to Congress to decide.
Salgado warned that the proposed rule change is too vague, and could lead to sweeping data searches targeting millions of Americans, especially Internet users who share networks or routers. He questioned the legality of such action.
The serious and complex constitutional concerns implicated by the proposed amendment are numerous and, because of the nature of Fourth Amendment case law development, are unlikely to be addressed by courts in a timely fashion, Salgado wrote.
The proposal would not authorize the government to undertake any search or seizure or use any remote search technique not already permitted under current law, Deputy Assistant Attorney General David Bitkower said in a memo published on Tuesday. Bitkower added that investigators are â€œcareful to avoid collateral damage when executing remote searches, just as [they are] careful to avoid injury to persons or damage to property in the far more common scenario of executing physical warrants.
Civil liberties and digital rights advocates have blasted the proposed amendment. This is an extremely invasive technique, Chris Soghoian, principal technologist of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), told the Guardian. “We are talking here about giving the FBI the green light to hack into any computer in the country or around the world.”