The US Justice Department is trying to expand federal powers to search and seize digital data. This move is opposed by Google – the tech giant warns that such changes would open the door to American government “hacking of any facility” in the world.
Google provided a strongly worded submission to the Washington committee (which is considering the suggested changes), claiming that increasing the FBI’s powers would raise constitutional, legal and geopolitical concerns. Google points out that under updated proposals, FBI would be enabled to carry out covert raids on servers regardless of where they are situated, thus providing the American government unfettered global access to vast amounts of private data.
Google is especially concerned over the FBI’s desire to “remotely” search PCs that have concealed their location via encryption or by hiding their IP addresses through various anonymity services like Tor – anywhere in the world. The tech giant raised its objections during a public consultation, which ended a few days ago. Now the Advisory Committee on Criminal Rules will have to consider its submission, along with 37 others made by interested parties. This committee is an obscure but powerful Washington body mainly involving judges with responsibility over federal rules.
At the moment, FBI agents wishing to search a property need to get a warrant to do so from the authorizing judge located in the same district as the property to be searched. However, the Justice Department claims that today such an arrangement no longer works and wants to widen the scope of warrants to allow FBI agents search property outside the judge’s district.
The FBI claims that the criminals are increasingly using sophisticated anonymizing technologies to hide their real IP addresses, and this prevents law enforcement from identifying the district where the electronic data is located. In addition, they promised to only request the such warrants if there was a cause to search for or seize evidence related to crime.
Nevertheless, the opposition remains unconvinced, claiming that the language of the suggested changes is so vaguely worded that it could have draconian implications, including violation the 4th amendment of the US constitution (the one that bans unreasonable searches and seizure). As for Google, the company particularly argues that such tactics may cause private data of innocent 3rd parties being hoovered up in a massive information sweep.
After the recent major hacks, including the breach of Sony Pictures, the American government is accused of trying to get an ability to carry out routine extra-territorial hacking raids – exactly what it has accused other countries of conducting.