- The Washington Times - Friday, October 28, 2016

Nearly two dozen lawmakers raised questions with the Justice Department this week over a rule change slated to expand the federal government’s authority to hack computers.

In a letter sent Thursday to Attorney General Loretta Lynch, 23 bipartisan members of the House and Senate requested clarification concerning new powers the government will get later this year when it updates Rule 41 of of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, the statute outlining the government’s ability to issue and execute search warrants

Unless Congress acts first, amendments to Rule 41 going into effect Dec. 1 will see that judges are able search and seize computers located in any jurisdiction rather than just their own. Critics say the changes will allow the government to remotely hack computers anywhere in the world with a single warrant, spurring concerning about privacy and security addressed in this week’s letter.

“We are concerned about the full scope of the new authority that would be provided to the Department of Justice,” the lawmakers wrote. “We believe that Congress — and the American public — must better understand the Department’s need for the proposed amendments, how the Department intends to use its proposed new powers and the potential consequences to our digital security before these rules go into effect.”

The letter goes on to list specific questions the lawmakers have about how the Justice Department will use the new authority, including any guidelines that would prevent prosecutors to “forum shopping,” or seeking warrants in districts of their choosing.

The letter also requests information about any testing that’s been done to ensure these new authorities don’t have any unintended consequences, specifically with regards to a provision that could allow warrants to be issued for any computer that’s been incorporated into a botnet – a network of infected, interconnected devices not unlike the one that disrupted the internet across North America and Europe last week.

“In particular … please describe how the principle of probable cause may be used to justify the remote search of tens of thousands of devices,” the lawmakers ask. “Is it sufficient probable cause for a search that a device merely be ‘damaged’ and connected to a crime?”

The Justice Department told Reuters Thursday that it was reviewing the lawmakers’ letter. Previously, the department told The Consumerist the changes “would not authorize the government to undertake any search or seizure or use any remote search technique not already permitted under current law.”

The group requesting clarification is led by Democratic Sens. Ron Wyden of Oregon and Patrick Leahy of Vermont, as well Democratic Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, and Sen. Mike Lee of Utah and Rep. Ted Poe of Texas, both Republican.

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