The DOJ’s Newest Attack on the Fourth Amendment

Remote Digital Searches: Your Computer is Totally Not Private if Federal Criminal Law changes for the worst.

This news was brought to light by the Gizmodo Federal Criminal Law Blog, describing the Justice Department’s continuing attack on the Fourh Amendment – the constitutional right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures:

A new proposed rule change will make it far easier for federal agents to obtain warrants to hack a computer from basically anywhere was just approved by a US Court committee, bringing all of us one step closer to having what little is left of our digital privacy rights destroyed in the name of federal “investigative need.”

In only very rare cases historically have agents been able to get permission to legally conduct remote computer searches, outside of the issuing judge’s jurisdiction. To make it easier for the FBI to conduct these sorts of remote hacks and track down criminals who use anonymizing software, the DOJ would now like to expand that power, resulting in a massive repudiation of the Fourth Amendment. Not only would the rule change permit judges to authorize FBI agents to surveil and grab any suspect’s digitally-stored information anywhere and from anywhere, but the vague language of the rule can (and, if history is any guide, will – remember the Patriot Act?) make it totally acceptable in certain cases to search our computers without ever telling us.

For example, the change would excuse territorial limits on the use of warrants to conduct “remote access” searches where the physical location of the media is “concealed through technological means.” The proposed change does not define what a “remote search” is or under what circumstances and conditions a remote search can be undertaken; it merely assumes such searches, whatever they may be, are constitutional and otherwise legal. It carries with it the specter of government hacking without any Congressional debate or democratic policymaking process.

The USA Patriot Act is a perfect example of what happens when the government is given unusual authority to “cross the line”  for a specific threat – all in the name of catching terrorists who might otherwise hit America again.

Everyone in the government admits there has been no specific terrorist act or plan identified or thwarted through the use of the Patriot Act privileges – but there have been plenty of “ordinary” criminal cases that were made by the use of that Act’s authority – something the Bush DOJ promised it would not use the Act for.