Unless someone steps up to push this off course, the DOJ’s proposed changes to Rule 41 will become law December 1. That’s the key part: doing something. All that has to happen is nothing for the changes to become law. The December 1st date plays right into the DOJ’s hands, arriving between two major holidays when legislators have other things on their minds, including the annual Congressional fisticuffs over the federal budget.
The DOJ says the changes are no big deal. Just an “update” on outdated laws. Oddly, it’s never shown any interest in updating any other outdated laws (like the CFAA) or pushed for a reconsideration of the Third Party Doctrine, which traces back nearly four decades. When it comes to expansions of power, though, it’s apparently time for some “updating.”
The proposed changes would allow the FBI to hack thousands of computers around the world with a single warrant, much like it already did during two child porn investigations. Unfortunately for the FBI, its warrant is being met with successful challenges because the agency clearly violated Rule 41 jurisdictional limitations.
In addition, the DOJ wants permission to break into “compromised” computers and poke around inside them without the permission or knowledge of the owners of these computers. It also wants to treat anything that anonymizes internet users or hides their locations to be presumed acts of a guilty mind. The stripping of jurisdictional limits not only grants the FBI worldwide access for digital seizures and searches, but also encourages it to go venue shopping for judicial rubber stamps.
Earlier this year, Sen. Ron Wyden introduced a bill aimed at stopping the DOJ’s Rule 41 push. Not much has been heard about this bill since, so Wyden (along with Sens. Coons, Lee, Franken, and Daines) has introduced another bill seeking to prevent a “do nothing” approval of expanding hacking/search powers. The “Review the Rule Act” [PDF] is about as succinct as legislation gets. Here’s the complete summary of the proposed legislation (via Naked Security):
To delay the amendments to rule 41 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure.
Wyden’s earlier bill hasn’t gained any traction and the hopes of a complete rejection before December 1st are nearly nonexistent. So, this bill just asks for a little more time to discuss the implications of the changes. This would move the default approval date back seven months to July 1, 2017.
This would allow representatives more time to fully consider the DOJ’s proposal, freed from the time crunch of major holidays and annual federal budget discussions. There’s far too much at stake to simply allow the DOJ to roll its Rule 41 ball downhill and past a distracted Congress. Many legislators like procrastination as much as they like not doing anything, so signing off on this proposal shouldn’t require much effort, mental or otherwise.