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FBI to gain expanded hacking powers as Senate effort to block fails

Published: November 30, 2016
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Source: Reuters

A last-ditch effort in the Senate to block or delay rule changes that would expand the U.S. government's hacking powers failed Wednesday, despite concerns the changes would jeopardize the privacy rights of innocent Americans and risk possible abuse by the incoming administration of President-elect Donald Trump.

Democratic Senator Ron Wyden attempted three times to delay the changes, which will take effect on Thursday and allow U.S. judges will be able to issue search warrants that give the FBI the authority to remotely access computers in any jurisdiction, potentially even overseas. His efforts were blocked by Senator John Cornyn of Texas, the Senate's second-ranking Republican.

The changes will allow judges to issue warrants in cases when a suspect uses anonymizing technology to conceal the location of his or her computer or for an investigation into a network of hacked or infected computers, such as a botnet.

Magistrate judges can currently only order searches within the jurisdiction of their court, which is typically limited to a few counties.

In a speech from the Senate floor, Wyden said that the changes to Rule 41 of the federal rules of criminal procedure amounted to "one of the biggest mistakes in surveillance policy in years."

The government will have "unprecedented authority to hack into Americans' personal phones, computers and other devices," Wyden said.

He added that such authority, which was approved by the Supreme Court in a private vote earlier this year, but was not subject to congressional approval, was especially troubling in the hands of an administration of President-elect Trump, a Republican who has "openly said he wants the power to hack his political opponents the same way Russia does."

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