FBI Gains Expanded Powers To Hack Any Computer It Wants Thanks To Rule 41

The Supreme Court approved a series of changes to Rule 41 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure by the United States Department of Justice that go into effect today. Those changes, which the DoJ proposed earlier this year and that were never discussed by Congress, gives the FBI permission to hack into multiple computer systems here and abroad with a just a single warrant in cases where they're part of a botnet or otherwise can't be traced to a precise location.

Any U.S. judge can authorize such a warrant, including magistrate judges who typically only issue warrants within their own jurisdiction. The rule changes effectively make it far easier for agencies like the FBI to carry out international hacking efforts, potentially with reckless abandon. Critics point out that innocent users who've had their electronic device hacked and infected with botnet malware are now susceptible to government hacking.


Democratic Senator Ron Wyden tried three times to block the rule changes that put at jeopardy a user's ability remain anonymous on the Internet by using Tor, a VPN, or other anonymizing software. He called the changes to rule 41 "one of the biggest mistakes in surveillance policy in years," noting that it gives the government "unprecedented authority to hack into American's personal phones, computers, and other devices," according to Reuters.

The DoJ argued that the rule changes will help law enforcement investigate cyber criminals by allowing them to access computers that are hidden because of Tor, VPNs, and the such. On top of that, the DoJ said that devices used in botnets are becoming increasingly powerful.

Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell offered up another defense of the rule changes, saying that if a suspect uses Tor or VPN to hide a PC's location, it becomes difficult for investigators to know where to bring their warrant application.

While the new rules take effect today, Congress still has the ability to undue the change. It remains to be seen if that will happen, as Congress hasn't held a single hearing on the matter.