The FBI will gain greatly expanded hacking powers after an effort by the Senate to block or delay the changes failed Wednesday. The changes could jeopardize the privacy rights of innocent Americans and risk possible abuse by the incoming administration of President-elect Donald Trump.
The changes will allow judges to issue warrants in cases when a suspect uses anonymizing technology to conceal the location of his or her computer or for an investigation into a network of hacked or infected computers, such as a botnet.
Magistrate judges can currently only order searches within the jurisdiction of their court, which is typically limited to a few counties.
According to Reuters, “Democratic Senator Ron Wyden attempted three times to delay the changes, which will take effect on Thursday and allow U.S. judges will be able to issue search warrants that give the FBI the authority to remotely access computers in any jurisdiction, potentially even overseas. His efforts were blocked by Senator John Cornyn of Texas, the Senate’s second-ranking Republican.
Senator Wyden called this decision,”one of the biggest mistakes of surveillance policy in years. The government will have “unprecedented authority to hack into Americans’ personal phones, computers and other devices.”
Wyden added that this authority was especially troubling in the hands of an administration of President-elect Trump, a Republican who has “openly said he wants the power to hack his political opponents the same way Russia does.”
U.S. Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell disagreed, stating;
“The possibility of such harm must be balanced against the very real and ongoing harms perpetrated by criminals – such as hackers, who continue to harm the security and invade the privacy of Americans through an ongoing botnet, or pedophiles who openly and brazenly discuss their plans to sexually assault children.”
In recent months, judges have dismissed evidence brought as part of a sweeping FBI child pornography sting, saying the search warrants used to hack suspects’ computers exceeded their jurisdiction.
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