A controversial expansion of government powers has granted the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) the ability to hack an unlimited number of civilian computers with just a single warrant, including computers located beyond the judicial district where the warrant is issued. Under the recently-amended Rule 41 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, federal magistrates are now authorized to permit widespread searches of computers regardless of their location, including those found in other judicial districts, states, or foreign countries. Until now, the government could only carry out a search of computers located in the district where the federal judge granted the warrant.
The expanded rule comes as a result of an early 2015 investigation which targeted Playpen, one of the largest child pornography forums on the internet. After federal agents seized the computer server hosting the site, a warrant was obtained authorizing the FBI to continue running the site to investigate its users, resulting in the identification of more than 8,000 internet protocol addresses in more than 120 countries and the arrest of more than 1,000 American users.
Though several courts found that the warrant was improperly issued, no universal agreement was established regarding whether or not evidence from the case should be suppressed. As a result, the Supreme Court conveyed to Congress its proposed changes to the rule, which include:
- The government would be permitted to remotely access electronic devices even if their location is unknown, and;
- The Department of Justice would be able to search multiple computers in numerous districts as part of a large-scale investigation of computer crimes.
Is This a Violation of the Fourth Amendment?
Despite being given until December 21st, 2016 to pass counter-legislation, Congress failed to act, allowing the proposed changes to take effect without resistance. Opponents of the rule change have labeled it as invasive and a breach of citizens’ rights under the Fourth Amendment. NSA Fugitive Edward Snowden expressed his thoughts on the matter, tweeting “Without a debate or any new law, the rights of every American – and basic privacy of people around the world – have been narrowed.”
While debate regarding the constitutionality of the Rule 41 modification will undoubtedly continue for the foreseeable future, one thing remains certain: it is now a whole lot easier for the government to access confidential information on your computer.
Charged with a Computer Crime? Call (888) 694-4645
If you are facing criminal prosecution for a computer crime such as hacking, phishing, or spamming, contact Friedman & Nemeck, L.L.C. Attorneys at Law today. Backed by years of criminal defense experience and a proven history of positive case results, our team of top-rated Cleveland criminal defense attorneys can provide the aggressive advocacy you need to guard your rights and minimize your chances of conviction.
Contact our office online today to discuss your defense options in full detail.