FBI request to expand hacking power advances

A little-known judicial advisory panel on Monday approved a Department of Justice request to expand the FBI’s ability to remotely collect electronic information in the U.S. and abroad, National Journal reported.

The Judicial Conference Advisory Committee on Criminal Rules voted 11-1 in favor of the request despite a chorus of criticism from civil liberties groups and tech giant Google that the change would give the FBI unprecedented and potentially unconstitutional hacking powers.

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Under the change, judges would be able to grant warrants for electronic searches of devices not located in their judicial district or when investigators can’t locate the device.

The FBI has argued it’s a necessary update to outdated rules on territorial limits of warrants. Electronic networks span multiple districts, and devices are easier to pinpoint online than in the physical world, they say.

Civil liberties groups see it as the biggest expansion of the FBI’s surveillance authority in the bureau’s history.

“[The proposal] carries with it the specter of government hacking without any congressional debate or democratic policymaking process,” said Google — the only major tech company to file comments on the request — in a blog post.

But the government insists it's merely an amendment to clarify where investigators can seek warrants.

Civil liberties groups are objecting to electronic searches more broadly, the DOJ argued.

“The commenters' objections,” the DOJ countered, “are general objections to obtaining and executing search warrants using certain remote search techniques.”

Several more committees must approve the request before it’s ultimately implemented. The Supreme Court and Congress also have several months to review, and potentially reject or alter, the amendment.