By Elias J. Atienza
The FBI gained new hacking powers despite a last ditched effort by Senate opponents to halt the expansion. A group of Senators, lead by Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) attempted to delay the changes several times but he was blocked by Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), the second highest ranking Republican in the Senate.
In essence, rules changes will allow judges to give search warrants that will give the FBI the authority to remotely access computers in any jurisdiction, potentially even overseas. Currently, judges are only allowed to issue warrants in their own jurisdiction.
The government will have “unprecedented authority to hack into Americans’ personal phones, computers and other devices,” Wyden said on the Senate floor.
Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell argued that the expansion of powers was necessary.
“The possibility of such harm must be balanced against the very real and ongoing harms perpetrated by criminals – such as hackers, who continue to harm the security and invade the privacy of Americans through an ongoing botnet, or pedophiles who openly and brazenly discuss their plans to sexually assault children,” Caldwell wrote in a blog post.
Representative Justin Amash (R-MI) slammed the new expansion of powers in a tweet directed at Senate leadership.
Senate Republican leaders decided your privacy and your rights aren't important. https://t.co/dy1Po2Db73
— Justin Amash (@justinamash) November 30, 2016
Senator Cornyn, possibly responding to Amash and Wyden, tried to assure that the FBI powers was not “hacking.”
FYI, a search warrant obtained upon a showing of probable causes that a crime has been committed before a neutral judge is not a "hack"
— JohnCornyn (@JohnCornyn) December 1, 2016
The government's new authority gives it access to the devices of millions of law-abiding individuals with a single warrant. That's hacking. https://t.co/OTyyzmDGEF
— Justin Amash (@justinamash) December 1, 2016
Amash is famous for his defense of privacy rights. He had lead an effort to strip the NSA of their funding, as well as another effort to strip the NSA of their powers to collect information on innocent Americans without a warrant.
Senators Rand Paul (R-KY) and Ron Wyden had introduced a bill, S. 3475, to delay the new policy until July to give Congress time to debate its merits and consider amendments.
“Under the proposed rules, the government would now be able to obtain a single warrant to access and search thousands or millions of computers at once; and the vast majority of the affected computers would belong to the victims, not the perpetrators, of a cybercrime,” Senator Ron Wyden said in a statement to Bloomberg.