U.S. lawmakers have introduced a bipartisan bill aimed at delaying controversial changes to search and seizure rules that would facilitate certain forms of hacking by law enforcement.
The Review the Rule Act aims to delay for discussion proposed amendments to Rule 41 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure scheduled to come into force on Dec. 1 until July 1 next year.
The changes to Rule 41, backed by the Department of Justice and passed by the Supreme Court, would allow justices to issue warrants to hack computers when the computer’s location is obscured by technological means, such as anonymizing techniques.
This will expand the government’s ability to search computers and other digital devices across several jurisdictions with a single warrant.
The changes to Rule 41 were upheld by the Supreme Court in April, and baring any contrary action by Congress, will go into effect as scheduled.
Lawmakers, industry and civil rights groups who are concerned about their implications on privacy and surveillance have opposed the proposed rule changes.
“A single prosecutor should not have the power to hack into the phone or computer of virtually anyone in the United States,” said U.S. Sen. Mike Lee, a Republican from Utah and a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The expanded surveillance authority to allow the U.S. to hack multiple computers in unknown locations, including overseas, with a single warrant has far-reaching consequences for U.S. citizens and people around the world, warned Ed Black, president and CEO of the Computer & Communications Industry Association in a statement Thursday.
“This policy impacts the relationship between citizens and our government and between the U.S. and allies,” he added.
Five Republican and Democratic senators who introduced the legislation include Sens. Chris Coons, D-Del., Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Al Franken, D-Minn., Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Steve Daines, R-Mont.
The bill sponsors were among 11 senators and 12 House members who signed an Oct. 27 letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch seeking more information about the change including how the department will prevent prosecutors from “forum shopping” for warrant friendly judges and how it will prevent damaging the computers of innocent bystanders.
The Review the Rule Act “will give Congress time to do our job and carefully consider and evaluate the merits of these proposed changes to the government’s ability to search personal computers and other digital devices,” said Sen. Chris Coons.