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  • FBI Says Cybercriminals Keep Getting Away, Need Unprecedented Authority

    The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) wants expanded authority to remotely hack U.S. and international computers, leaving civil rights organizations horrified at what they term serious violations of the First and Fourth amendments, The Hill reports.

    Some privacy advocates are saying the request for expansion constitutes an unprecedented and dangerous increase. “Possibly the broadest expansion of extraterritorial surveillance power since the FBI’s inception,” added Ahmed Ghappour, a computer law specialist at the University of California-Hastings College of the Law. Ghappour, along with other privacy specialists, will deliver an address at the Advisory Committee on Criminal Rules next Wednesday.

    The FBI countered, saying that cyber criminals are innovating with sophisticated technology, making life difficult for agents trying to carry on investigations. Tracking these criminals, the agency says, is incredibly onerous without additional authority.

    “Criminals are increasingly using sophisticated anonymizing technologies when they engage in crime over the Internet,” the FBI said.

    The change would remove rules on territorial warrant limits for electronic storage searches. For now, only magistrate judges can issue warrants, and even then, warrants are tied to the specific jurisdiction of the magistrate. But if the FBI is successful, the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure could be fundamentally altered.

    “[T]he ACLU recommends that the Advisory Committee exercise extreme caution before granting the government new authority to remotely search individuals’ electronic data,” said the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) proposal, though the overall tone was one of cautious sympathy towards FBI aims.

    But ACLU concerns arose again based on exactly how the FBI intends to achieve its objectives, mainly because of how loose jurisdictional issues would become. One example provided by the ACLU shows exactly how the proposal could work in practice.

    “Suppose an internet fraudster sends unsolicited email to people in two dozen districts. Perhaps those emails travel through servers in another dozen districts on their way across the Internet,” the ACLU document notes. “And suppose the suspect purchased his computer from a vendor in yet another district, and uses a cloud-based email service to generate the messages, the servers of which are spread across an additional five districts. The government would apparently be able to select among any of those 42 districts in which to apply for a warrant.”

    Further, the FBI will be able to use malware and spyware in its searches openly over the Internet.

    Already the FBI has stepped up its efforts to match cybercriminals. This week, the FBI admitted to spying on a suspect by faking an Associated Press article on a made-up Seattle Times website. The suspect’s computer was infected with FBI technology upon visiting the website.

    Follow Jonah Bennett on Twitter

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