Senate Introduces 'Stopping Mass Hacking Act'

Joe Pappalardo
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Posted: May 20, 2016 3:10 PM
Senate Introduces 'Stopping Mass Hacking Act'

A bill introduced Thursday that aims to prevent the government from gaining the power to hack any American computer using a single warrant.

Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) introduced the Stopping Mass Hacking (SMH) Act to prevent a recent change to Rule 41 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. The Department of Justice (DOJ) asked for the amendment, which was then recommended by the U.S. Federal Courts and passed by the Supreme Court in April. According to a statement released by Sen. Paul, this edit “would make it easier for DOJ to obtain warrants for remote electronic searches.”

“This is a dramatic expansion of the government’s hacking and surveillance authority,” said Sen. Wyden. “Such a substantive change with an enormous impact on Americans’ constitutional rights should be debated by Congress, not maneuvered through an obscure bureaucratic process.”

Sens. Wyden and Paul were also joined by Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.) in co-sponsoring the bill. Unless both chambers of Congress reject the change by Dec. 1, judges will be allowed to grant warrants for searches outside the jurisdiction of their courts.

The DOJ proposed the change so the FBI could access remote computers when criminals used concealing technology. In a statement to the Associated Press, Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr said the proposal would help investigators find offenders who film videos of child sexual abuse, noting a recent investigation which saved 38 children.

"This rule change would make clear that where the suspect has hidden the location of his computer using technological means, agents know which judge to go to apply for a warrant,” Carr said in a statement to the Associated Press.

The department officials’ insistence that the change will not grant more power to investigators has been met with opposition from the American Civil Liberties Union and tech company Google. Google's Director for law enforcement and information security matters Richard Salgado published comments in February 2015, saying:

“The proposed amendment substantively expands the government's current authority under Rule 41 and raises a number of monumental and highly complex constitutional, legal, and geopolitical concerns that should be left to Congress to decide.”

The amendment to Rule 41 takes effect at the end of this year if Congress does not act against it. According to Wyden’s office, the House will have also have a similar bill soon.