The Guardian reports that the FBI has proposed a rule change that would greatly broaden its powers to hack into computers. Bad.
According to the report, the proposal calls for broad changes to the scope of warrants:
The proposed operating changes related to rule 41 of the federal rules of criminal procedure, the terms under which the FBI is allowed to conduct searches under court-approved warrants. Under existing wording, warrants have to be highly focused on specific locations where suspected criminal activity is occurring and approved by judges located in that same district.
The FBI isn't content to follow the rules as they stand and instead wants to be able to hack into computers regardless of where they are.
The amendment inserts a clause that would allow a judge to issue warrants to gain "remote access" to computers "located within or outside that district" (emphasis added) in cases in which the "district where the media or information is located has been concealed through technological means". The expanded powers to stray across district boundaries would apply to any criminal investigation, not just to terrorist cases as at present.
The problem is that the FBI can't really tell where computers it wants to search are located, because its so easy for someone to obscure their location using tools like TOR.
The US Department of Justice has already applied for the rule change, and next week, an advisory committee will hear testimony from experts on the matter.
Broadening the scope of FBI powers that are already probably too lax without categorically demonstrated need and very carful scrutiny is a bad thing. Recently, the FBI has illustrated that it will go to to great lengths to bend the rules. Indeed, law enforcement tends to think it should have unlimited power. In that light this rule change in particular is troubling because the ability to hack any computer anywhere lends itself to easy abuse. [The Guardian]