Does a DOJ Rule Change Mean Greater Security or Allow the Government to Hack Your Computer?

A change in rules which the Department of Justice says simply gives more courts a way to order online surveillance is now in effect, much to the dismay of numerous organizations nationally.                                                                                                    

 The changes to Rule 41 went into effect on December 1, 2016, and the DOJ says, “The amendments do not change any of the traditional protections and procedures under the Fourth Amendment, such as the requirement that the government establish probable cause.  Rather, the amendments would merely ensure that at least one court is available to consider whether a particular warrant application comports with the Fourth Amendment.” (DOJ blog, June 20, 2016)                          The DOJ says the rule changes are meant for specific cases, such as uncovering the location of a computer that has purposely been veiled to hide its location, or to help reduce the number of warrants that would need to be issued in a case where many jurisdictions would have individually needed to be involved. 

Not so says a number of organizations nationally, including the American Civil Liberties Union,  Google and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. In an open letter to the Senate and House Majority and Minority leaders on November 21, 2016, these and 23 other organizations warn the law will “significantly expand the government’s ability to conduct remote access searches of electronic storage devices, colloquially referred to as hacking, to further its investigations.” It further warns the rule change is bad for both security, as well as Fourth Amendment privacy, by removing jurisdiction requirements for a search, allowing one warrant to be used for millions of targets, and allowing the computers of millions of innocent crime victims to be searched without their consent.

The letter concludes that Congress should debate this change and make sure it does not result in a substantial increase in government hacking. 

 By NJEDge staff reporter, Joe Ricci