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FBI seeks new legal powers to clandestinely take over computer systems and spy on users


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(NaturalNews) Top FBI officials are working to convince an indistinct regulatory entity in the nation's capital to allow the agency to alter its rules of engagement in a naked bid to seize more authority to breach computers and put them under electronic surveillance both in the U.S. and around the world.

As reported by The Guardian, one of Britain's top investigative papers, civil liberties groups are already sounding alarm bells, warning that the proposed rule changes would amount "to a power grab by the agency that would ride roughshod over strict limits to searches and seizures laid out under the Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution." They also worry that the rule changes would lead to invasions of privacy.

In sum, the groups warn that the FBI is essentially attempting to enlarge its powers out of the public eye, without debate and without any input from Congress, which funds the Justice Department. The regulatory body to which the Bureau has petitioned is called the Advisory Committee on Criminal Rules, which falls under the U.S. federal court system, which is part of the Justice Department, to which the FBI belongs. The committee plans to meet for the first time Nov. 5 to take up the FBI's request.

'A giant step forward in FBI capabilities'

A number of technology experts and advocates for privacy who are concerned about the ramifications of the rule changes are scheduled to address the committee. The FBI wants the changes to go into effect next year.

"This is a giant step forward for the FBI's operational capabilities, without any consideration of the policy implications," Ahmed Ghappour, a computer law expert at the University of California's Hastings College of the Law, told The Guardian. "To be seeking these powers at a time of heightened international concern about US surveillance is an especially brazen and potentially dangerous move."

He will also be addressing the hearing, the paper reported.

The Bureau is seeking operational changes to Rule 41 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. The rule guides how the FBI is permitted to conduct searches under court-issued warrants. Now, those warrants must be highly focused on specifics -- what is to be searched, where the search is to take place, who is to be searched, and so forth. That is a legal principle dating back to the 18th century debates over the Constitution.

What the FBI is seeking is a change in the rules, especially for computers, that will permit courts to essentially issue "general warrants" -- the same kind that the British used to conduct open-ended searches of colonists' homes and businesses.

'This is an extremely invasive technique'

As reported by The Guardian:

But under the proposed amendment, a judge can issue a warrant that would allow the FBI to hack into any computer, no matter where it is located. The change is designed specifically to help federal investigators carry out surveillance on computers that have been "anonymized" -- that is, their location has been hidden using tools such as Tor.

The proposal adds a clause to Rule 41 that gives judges authority to issue "remote access" warrants for computers "located within or outside that district" in any case dealing with a "district where the media or information is located [that] has been concealed through technological means."

The additional powers to move across district boundaries are unprecedented and would apply to any criminal investigation -- not just suspected cases of terrorism, like present.

"This is an extremely invasive technique," Chris Soghoian, principal technologist of the American Civil Liberties Union -- who is also scheduled to address the hearing -- told the paper. "We are talking here about giving the FBI the green light to hack into any computer in the country or around the world."





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