FBI may soon be allowed to hack computers anywhere in the world

A Supreme Court rule change will greatly expand the FBI's hacking capability, civil liberties groups have warned.

The Supreme Court has approved a rule change that will allow US judges to issue search warrants for accessing computers and devices in any jurisdiction.

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(Image: Homeland Security)

That would greatly expand the FBI's hacking capability, say civil liberties groups, who are opposing the planned change.

Under existing rules, judges can only issue orders within their jurisdiction, often only a few miles across or a few local districts.

But the Justice Dept. argued the change is necessary to keep up the pace against criminals, who often work across multiple jurisdictions -- even countries.

"This amendment ensures that courts can be asked to review warrant applications in situations where is it currently unclear what judge has that authority. The amendment makes explicit that it does not change the traditional rules governing probable cause and notice," said Peter Carr, a Justice Dept. spokesperson said in a statement.

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The change will allow the FBI to conduct network investigative techniques (NITs) -- another term for hacking carried out by law enforcement -- to remotely search computers located anywhere in the world.

But civil liberties group Access called on Congress to reject the rule change.

"While Congress is distracted rehashing long-settled debates about the use of encryption, the Department of Justice is quietly trying to grant themselves substantive authority to hack into computers and masking it as a bureaucratic update," said Amie Stepanovich, US policy manager at digital rights group Access Now.

Google objected to the change in 2015, shortly after the proposal was floated.

"The implications of this expansion of warrant power are significant, and are better addressed by Congress," said Richard Salgado, legal director for Google's law enforcement and information security unit.

Congress must approve the change by December 1. If ignored, the rule change will automatically come into effect.