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FBI seeks licence to remotely hack computers

Proposal seeks changes that would make it easier to hack into suspects' computers.

By Vinod

The US Justice Department is seeking a change in criminal rules that would provide the FBI with greater leeway in obtaining warrants to hack into computers during criminal investigations.

The proposal would provide greater power to federal agents to secretly access the computers of suspected criminals for evidence as the country grapples with increasing instances of online crimes amid highly sophisticated tools used by criminals to conceal identities.

It would also remove the current geographical restriction on warrants for computer investigations, permitting agents to remotely access computers when locations are unknown.

Privacy advocates argue that this will further infringe upon individuals’ rights, with the probability of malware being inserted on computers that could jeopardize Internet security.

Stephen Saltzburg, a law professor at George Washington University, said: "What I think we’re looking for as a society is a way to investigate crime while limiting the exposure of information that should be kept private."

Nathan Freed Wessler, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union, in a telephone interview to Bloomberg said: "I don’t think many Americans would be comfortable with the government sending code onto their computers without their knowledge or consent."

If approved by a judge, the proposal would allow the secrecy of remote access surveillance operations to be maintained for as long as 30 days and more.

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The proposal comes at a time when the US government is still reeling under the impact of electronic spying scandal by the National Security Agency, which was unearthed by Edward Snowden last year.

The Justice Department reasons that child pornographers and other criminals are increasingly using sophisticated technology such as proxy servers that conceal the true Internet addresses of a criminal’s computer, or the use of hundreds or thousands of compromised computers, known as a botnet, which makes it tough to apprehend them.

Questions are also being asked about the power of the new proposal to bypass legal requirements in accessing data stored online, such as within Google’s cloud service or Microsoft’s Outlook e-mail accounts.

The proposal was put up for consideration by the Judicial Conference Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedure, commonly called the standing committee.

If the standing committee agrees to take up the matter, the proposal would open for public comment in August for six months, reports Bloomberg, with final review by Congress, before it comes into effect.

The Justice Department includes the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Drug Enforcement Administration and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

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