Bipartisan coalition presses Justice Department about government hacking

Composite: Background image by Kheng ho Toh / Hemera / Getty Images Plus; photo of Statue of Liberty, New York, New Yor, September 2016, by Kimberly Scott; St. George News

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA – A bipartisan coalition of Senate and House lawmakers is asking Attorney General Loretta Lynch to provide Congress with more information about a proposed expansion of government hacking and surveillance powers.

The bipartisan group of 23 lawmakers, including Judiciary Committee member Sen. Mike Lee and Rep. Jason Chaffetz, wants more information about the proposal, formally known as amendments to Rule 41 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure.

“The proposed amendments to Rule 41 have the potential to significantly expand the Department’s ability to obtain a warrant to engage in ‘remote access,’ or hacking of computers and other electronic devices,” the lawmakers write in the letter.

Unless Congress acts, these new amendments are scheduled to go into effect on December 1.

 “We are concerned about the full scope of the new authority that would be provided to the Department of Justice,” the letter states. “We believe that Congress — and the American public — must better understand the Department’s need for the proposed amendments, how the Department intends to use its proposed new powers, and the potential consequences to our digital security before these rules go into effect.”

 The lawmakers ask the DOJ a number of questions about how Rule 41 will be used, including:

  • How the government intends to prevent forum shopping by prosecutors seeking court approval to hack into Americans’ devices.
  • How the government will prevent collateral damage to innocent Americans’ devices and electronic data when it remotely searches devices such as smartphones or medical devices.
  • Whether the government intends to use this new authority to search and “clean” Americans’ computers.
  • How the government will maintain a chain of custody when searching or removing evidence from a device.
  • How the government will notify Americans who are the subjects of remote government searches.

Read the full letter here.

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