FBI granted the right to hack the computers of any suspect running Tor, VPNs or anonymizing software

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Starting today, the FBI will now have a much easier time hacking just about any computer it wants to. The use of VPNs and other anonymizing software such as Tor meant that it was previously difficult for the Feds to apply for the necessary warrant within the relevant jurisdiction.

Now the location doesn't matter. A change to Rule 41 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure means that investigators can obtain a search warrant regardless of location. The expansion of FBI hacking powers comes after a failed Senate bid to block the changes to Rule 41, and there are fears that it is power that could be abused by Trump.

The change means that judges will be able to grant warrants that permit the 'remote access' (i.e. hacking) of computers that have been anonymized in some way. Like the Snooper's Charter in the UK, there is concern that the change grants the government, in the words of Senator Ron Wyden, "unprecedented authority to hack into Americans' personal phones, computers and other devices".

Speaking about the rule change, Senator Wyden said:

By sitting here and doing nothing, the Senate has given consent to this expansion of government hacking and surveillance. Law-abiding Americans are going to ask 'what were you guys thinking?' when the FBI starts hacking victims of a botnet hack. Or when a mass hack goes awry and breaks their device, or an entire hospital system and puts lives at risk.

Dismay has been voiced that the rule change was made with neither a vote nor congressional debate.

Image credit: yurchello108 / Shutterstock

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