A bipartisan group of legislators on Thursday signed a letter asking the Department of Justice (DOJ) to clarify how forthcoming rule changes to the scope of government hacking powers could affect citizens’ privacy.
Scheduled to go into effect on December 1, the changes would grant judges the authority to issue search warrants for remote access to computers located in any jurisdiction, even those situated on foreign soil.
The amendments to Rule 41 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure were approved by the Supreme Court and transmitted to Congress pursuant to the Rules Enabling Act in April. The proposed amendments to Rule 41 have the potential to “significantly expand the Department’s ability to engage in hacking of computers and other electronic devices,” the senators contended in their letter.
The senators queried the necessity for the proposed amendments, what the Justice Department plans to do with its proposed new powers, and the potential consequences to the digital security of Americans.
Another area of concern for the senators is the possibility that the deployment of software to search for and disable a botnet may potentially affect other internet-connected devices. They also wanted to know how the government would prevent “forum shopping,” which they described as a situation where prosecutors would seek a warrant in any district “where activities related to a crime may have occurred.”
The senators asked the Justice Department to clarify how it would notify users and owners of devices that have been searched, especially in cases where “tens of thousands of devices” are searched.
Privacy advocates and technology companies have voiced concerns over the possibility of the changes to Rule 41 enabling searches that violate privacy rights.