[12/5/16] Congress just failed to block a change to a federal rule of criminal procedure granting the FBI power to hack into the personal computers of millions of Americans without obtaining a constitutionally sound warrant as required by the Fourth Amendment.
On November 30, a last-ditch effort by a bipartisan quartet of senators to stall the rule change that cleared the FBI’s access to personal computers failed in committee, thus the new language is in effect as of December 1.
Senators Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Christopher Coons (D-Del.), and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) co-sponsored S. 3485, the Stalling Damaging Hacking Act of 2016 in a now abortive attempt to prevent the federal law enforcement agency from gaining immense and intrusive access to the personal computers of citizens of the United States.
“This rule change would give the government unprecedented authority to hack into Americans’ personal devices. This was an alarming proposition before the election,” Wyden said in a statement e-mailed to BuzzFeed News. “Today, Congress needs to think long and hard about whether to hand this power to [FBI Director] James Comey and the administration of someone who openly said he wants the power to hack his political opponents the same way Russia does.”
The outcome was predictable, sadly, but here are the details of the procedural death of the bill as reported by The Hill:
“Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Steve Daines (R-Mont.) and Chris Coons (D-Del.) took to the floor and unsuccessfully asked for unanimous consent to either pass or formally vote on three bills to delay or prevent updates to the process used by law enforcement to get a warrant to hack suspects’ computers,” the report continued.
“’We simply can’t give unlimited power for unlimited hacking,’ Daines argued.”
Apparently we can, seeing as how a similar gambit undertaken a few days earlier by Wyden and Paul was equally futile.
As of December 1, then, the Obama administration took a tyrannical step forward in its quest toward the de facto repeal of the Fourth Amendment.
Here’s how the latest legislative failure to block the betrayal began.
In November of 2104, the Obama Justice Department asked that a committee be empaneled to amend Rule 41 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure (FRCP).
Section (b) of that provision begins:
Authority to Issue a Warrant. At the request of a federal law enforcement officer or an attorney for the government:
a magistrate judge with authority in the district — or if none is reasonably available, a judge of a state court of record in the district — has authority to issue a warrant to search for and seize a person or property located within the district;
a magistrate judge with authority in the district has authority to issue a warrant for a person or property outside the district if the person or property is located within the district when the warrant is issued but might move or be moved outside the district before the warrant is executed….
In plain terms, judges may issue search warrants only within the districts where they have jurisdiction. The FBI wants this restriction removed.
Specifically, with the congressional failure to protect the Fourth Amendment, the FBI can now require a judge to issue an electronic surveillance warrant authorizing the feds to search the contents of a computer, regardless of where that computer is physically located.
The National Journal sees it another way, however.
In an article praising the rule change, the author of the National Journal piece insists that the updated Rule 41 will allow FBI and law enforcement “to better track and investigate criminals who use technology to conceal their identity and location, a practice that has become more common and sophisticated in recent years.”
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