The new Rule 41 dictate is going to be law and it’s a doozy, both mind-boggling (for its stupidity) and stomach-churning (for its stupidity) at the same time. Effectively, what the law does is allow any judge, anywhere (including Podunk, Texas), to grant a warrant for electronic surveillance of any US citizen. If you thought the NSA spying fiasco was bad – you ain’t seen nothing yet.
Senator Ron Wyden called the changes to Rule 41 “one of the biggest mistakes in surveillance policy in years.” He added that the government will now have “unprecedented authority to hack into American’s personal phones, computers, and other devices.”
The stupidity of the rule change is outstanding and an embarrassment for Americans who did nothing to stop it. With the change, any magistrate judge in any district can award a warrant to authorities allowing them to remotely access a person’s electronic device and view, copy, or seize data even if that person is located outside of their district. The authority to access the device is allowed if the device to be searched is unknown or contains information that is not known because of (1) any sort of anonymizing mechanism or (2) the device has been unintentionally damaged by someone other than the owner of the device.
Provisions of the open-ended rule not only cover botnets (“a device unintentionally damaged”) but also encompass any device that has been penetrated by a hacker (think malware) – which is virtually every device in the country. The rule change also allows hacking of an individual’s computer not only if the person uses a VPN, Tor, or proxy services but also if a person denies access to location data or change their country settings for any service. If this sounds like authority to basically hack *anything*, well, it is.
The rule expands the hacking capabilities of the United States government to the widest extent possible. The Senate had until December 1 to block the rule changes – today they failed. The changes will go into effect tomorrow. Americans, bow your heads in shame.