Advocates Oppose Expanded FBI Search Authority

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While investigating an online child pornography ring, the FBI asked a Virginia judge to sign a warrant that would permit the agency to search an unlimited number of computers anywhere in the world. The 2015 warrant was used in Operation Pacifier, during which the FBI commandeered a popular child pornography website called Playpen and infected visitors’ computers with malware to track them remotely, reports the American Bar Association Journal. As a result, the Department of Justice charged 214 people. The warrant allowed access to 8,700 IP addresses in some 120 countries.

The authority to erase jurisdictional boundaries for warrants in hacking cases has become a part of Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, the rule governing warrants. After the change was made in December, a bipartisan group of politicians, criminal defense lawyers and advocacy organizations expressed concern that the amended rule is a threat to the Fourth Amendment and gives the Justice Department unchecked and overly expansive authority. Law enforcers say the amendment is needed to keep up with the increasing sophistication of online crime and does not impinge on individual rights. Colin Fieman, a federal public defender in Seattle with clients being prosecuted with evidence from Operation Pacifier, sees the actions taken by the FBI as “unprecedented and deeply troubling.”

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