Cyberattacks Put New Focus on Search-Warrant Rule Change

The Justice Department is citing last week's internet outages caused by widespread cyberattacks to support allowing U.S. agents to search online devices in faraway locations with approval from a single judge. Lawmakers on Thursday expressed renewed reservations about a change some see as expanding the FBI's authority to hack devices.

An amendment to Rule 41 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, which governs search warrants, goes into effect on Dec. 1 unless Congress steps in to stop it. Google and civil liberties groups have argued that the amendment grants the government overly broad powers to hack into computers across the country, with potentially unintended consequences.

Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Rand Paul, R-Ky., have proposed legislation to stop the amendment from taking effect. On Thursday, 23 lawmakers wrote to Attorney General Loretta Lynch asking how the Justice Department "intends to use its proposed new powers, and the potential consequences to our digital security before these rules go into effect."

The amendment is intended to deal with scenarios where certain technology makes it difficult to determine a computer's physical location, or cases when swarms of private computers, known as botnets, are used to coordinate digital attacks against targets. When the computers can't be located physically to be searched, agents could search them remotely by hacking into them and looking for clues.

The amendment would allow a judge to issue one warrant for computers or devices in multiple districts at once. Generally judges can issue a warrant for a search only in their district.

"Significant botnets operate in every single judicial district in the United States," Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell told The Associated Press. "Absent this amendment we'd have to go through all 94 judicial districts ... to get the judge in each of these districts to sign the exact same search warrant. It would...

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