Google is concerned about a proposed change to a criminal procedure rule that could allow the US government to hack into and spy on computer networks and devices across the globe. The search giant has filed a comment (PDF) opposing the change, as it believes the change would undermine Web users’ rights to privacy and security.
A government body known as the Advisory Committee on the Rules of Criminal Procedure is seeking to update Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 41, which currently prohibits a federal judge from issuing a search warrant outside of the judge’s district, with some exceptions.
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The proposed change would allow government agencies to obtain warrants to conduct “remote access” searches of computers and mobile devices if their physical location is “concealed through technological means.”
The idea behind this might be to uncover botnets or data from systems in the US whose Web traffic and location are masked, but the proposal won’t stop authorities from searching computers outside US borders.
Google is worried that the change could harm the US’ relationships with countries borne out of agreements to cooperate in cross-border investigations.
It also fears that Web users’ and businesses’ online privacy might be at risk. The change doesn’t specify the conditions under which warrants for “remote searches” will be granted, and doesn’t shed light on the scope and nature of such measures either.
Google is also concerned that Virtual Private Network (VPN) users might come under fire, as their locations are obscured. People use VPNs for securely transmitting information and conducting transactions, and could be subjected to baseless searches merely because of the way the change is worded.
The company believes that the expansion of such powers should be decided upon by Congress. We’ll have to wait and see if Google’s voice is loud enough for the government to hear.
➤ A Small Rule Change That Could Give the U.S. Government Sweeping New Warrant Power [Google Public Policy Blog]
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