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The Supreme Court has approved rule changes governing how federal courts handle criminal investigations. Judges were previously limited to authorizing searches within their own jurisdiction, usually just a few counties. These rule changes would allow judges to approve remote searches of computers no matter where they are located, if the location of the device cannot be determined. The rule changes also allow courts to authorize the search of computers which have been hacked by criminals, such as those that are part of a botnet, but do not actually belong the criminals themselves.

Chief Justice Roberts has sent the rule changes to Congress today, as required by law. Congress does have the ability to overrule the changes, but rarely exercises that power. If Congress takes no action, the changes will go into effect on December 1 of this year. While few members of Congress seem interested in opposing these rule changes, there is one Senator who has voiced strong opposition to them.

Senator Ron Wyden criticized the changes as being a threat to the privacy of Americans. He stated, “Under the proposed rules, the government would now be able to obtain a single warrant to access and search thousands or millions of computers at once; and the vast majority of the affected computers would belong to the victims, not the perpetrators, of a cybercrime.” Wyden has vowed to introduce legislation to reverse the changes.

The changes have been criticized by groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union and Access Now. Even major tech companies like Google have also voiced opposition to the changes. They are concerned that the changes will expand the FBI’s ability to hack computer networks. They also believe the rules violate constitutional protections against unreasonable searches and seizures.

These rule changes have been sought by the Department of Justice since 2013. A spokesman for the DOJ stated that the changes are necessary in order to deal with criminals who use anonymizing technologies to hide their location. The spokesman argues that the changes do not authorize any new searches that are not already permitted by law.

The proposed rule changes can be found here.


Max Michael

Senior Writer

I’m a technology reporter located near the Innovation District of Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario.