Tech groups say FBI shouldn't be allowed to do mass hacking

Tech and digital rights groups call on Congress to block proposal to allow expanded law enforcement hacking authority

Congress should block proposed changes to rules governing U.S. law enforcement investigations that could give law enforcement agencies new authority to hack thousands of computers, several tech and advocacy groups said.

Congress should stop the proposed changes, approved by the Supreme Court in April, that would allow judges to issue warrants for hacking and surveillance in cases where investigators don't know the target computer's location, a coalition of 50 tech trade groups, digital rights groups, and tech companies said in a letter sent Tuesday to congressional leaders.

The proposed rule, which would allow judges to issue warrants outside their jurisdictions, "would threaten the civil liberties of everyday Internet users," the coalition said in its letter. The new rule "would invite law enforcement to seek warrants authorizing them to hack thousands of computers at once."

In addition, the rule change could hurt network security efforts, the groups said. "Increased government hacking will likely have unintended consequences that cause serious damage to computer security and negatively impact innocent users," their letter said.

The Supreme Court approved changes to Rule 41 of the Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure, which, in most cases, now prohibits federal judges from issuing a search warrant outside their jurisdictions. The changes go into effect on Dec. 1 unless Congress moves to reverse them.

The coalition called on Congress to pass the Stop Mass Hacking Act, a pair of bills introduced last month to roll back the proposed changes to Rule 41. 

Representatives of the FBI and the Department of Justice didn't immediately comment on the coalition letter.

Among the organizations signing the letter were trade groups the Computer and Communications Industry Association and the Internet Association; digital rights groups the American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and Fight for the Future; and tech companies Google, PayPal, SpiderOak, and Evernote.

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