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Proposed Search Warrant Rule Change Threatens Privacy, Security: Google

Proposed changes to a rule that governs the issuance of search warrants would make it easier for the United States government to obtain permission to remotely hack into computers, but Google warns that the amendment could have serious implications for privacy and security.

Proposed changes to a rule that governs the issuance of search warrants would make it easier for the United States government to obtain permission to remotely hack into computers, but Google warns that the amendment could have serious implications for privacy and security.

The amendment targeting the Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 41 has been proposed by the Advisory Committee on the Rules of Criminal Procedure at the request of the US Department of Justice.

Currently, with some exceptions, Rule 41 dictates that a federal judge is not allowed to issue a search warrant outside of their district. However, according to Google, the proposed amendment would expand the exceptions when computers are involved.

“The proposed change would allow the U.S. government to obtain a warrant to conduct ‘remote access’ searches of electronic storage media if the physical location of the media is ‘concealed through technological means,’ or to facilitate botnet investigations in certain circumstances,” Richard Salgado, legal director of law enforcement and information security at Google, wrote in a blog post.

In comments filed last week, Google noted that the proposed amendment is a significant expansion of the government’s search capabilities. The company urges the Advisory Committee to allow Congress to decide whether such drastic changes to electronic surveillance rules are warranted.

Salgado has pointed out that even though the amendment is designed to make it easier for the government to access computers in the United States, authorities would likely leverage it to obtain warrants for searching devices across the world.

Google also believes that the change would have a negative impact on the agreements the US has with other countries for cross-border investigations.

In addition, the proposed change would significantly impact Internet users’ privacy and security, the search giant warned.

“The proposed change does not define what a ‘remote search’ is or under what circumstances and conditions a remote search can be undertaken; it merely assumes such searches, whatever they may be, are constitutional and otherwise legal. It carries with it the specter of government hacking without any Congressional debate or democratic policymaking process,” said Salgado.

The expert has highlighted that virtual private networks (VPNs), which are used by many organizations to protect their systems and customer information, could also become the target of remote searches because they conceal the network’s real location.

Google is not the only organization to oppose the amendment. In October, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) urged the Advisory Committee to reject the proposal in full.

Written By

Eduard Kovacs (@EduardKovacs) is a contributing editor at SecurityWeek. He worked as a high school IT teacher for two years before starting a career in journalism as Softpedia’s security news reporter. Eduard holds a bachelor’s degree in industrial informatics and a master’s degree in computer techniques applied in electrical engineering.

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