Google warns against expanding FBI hacking power

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Google urged a small government rules committee to block a Department of Justice (DOJ) request that would expand the FBI’s ability to remotely collect electronic information in the U.S. and abroad.

The DOJ filed its request last year to the little-known Advisory Committee on Criminal Rules.

The department wants the committee to give judges the power to authorize warrants for electronic searches in multiple jurisdictions, or when investigators don’t know the physical location of a device.

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Such a move, Google said in comments filed to the committee, “substantively expands the government’s current authority,” and “raises a number of monumental and highly complex constitutional, legal and geopolitical concerns.”

The tech giant’s comments put them on the side of civil liberties and privacy advocates, who appeared before the committee in November to strongly protest the proposal.

DOJ has argued such an update is needed to eliminate address changes in technology and ease logistical nightmares. A single computer network, for instance, can span multiple jurisdictions. Having to get a warrant for each jurisdiction instead of just one warrant for the computer network, significantly slows down investigators, authorities say.

But Google countered that this power would create blanket warrants that blindly target wide swaths of people around the world without notice.

Granting a search on one computer network could authorize searches of thousands people whose Internet traffic is routed through that specific server.

That might infringe on Fourth Amendment protections from unreasonable search and seizures, Google said.

The change “weakens” requirements to notify individuals prior to a search, and “expands the practice of covert entry warrants,” Google said.

Federal law enforcement officials have come under fire for their clandestine digital tactics to collect information on suspects.

The Drug Enforcement Agency is being sued after allegedly lifting photos from a woman’s phone to create a fake Facebook account under her name and communicate with other people of interest.

The FBI has also admitted to faking an Associated Press story and planting on a mock Seattle Times website to try and plant tracking software on a suspect’s computer.