The Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF) has called a Day of Action to protest new changes currently being forced through by the Department of Justice which will increase the capability of law enforcement agencies to hack into computers located all around the world.
What seems on the face of it to be a relatively small, technical change will actually have wide-ranging implications for the freedom of internet users across the globe.
The proposed change originates from an obscure committee; the advisory committee on criminal rules for the Judicial Conference of the United States. Their role is to oversee the procedures by which the US Court system operates. The amendment in question updates Rule 41 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, which are intended to be rules for the day-to-day operation of courts in the USA.
What the Committee is not supposed to do is make any rule changes which substantially impact on the rights of citizens. But that is precisely what this proposed change does.
The amendment gives a judge the power to issue warrants to access, search, seize, and copy data if “the district where the media or information is located has been concealed through technological means” or if it is on secure computers which have been “damaged without authorization and are located in five or more districts.”
What does this even mean
The specifics of what this actually means are worth delving into a little deeper.
The first section grants the power to almost every Judge to issue search warrants relevant to a crime to access and take data from any machine which uses privacy software to hide your location. What this means, of course, is computers using VPNs, or other such pieces of software such as those using the TOR network.
There are many reasons why someone might want to hide their location online, and with more and more people becoming aware of the risks of not protecting your data online, the catch-all wording of this is deeply concerning.
The second section of the amendments appears to relate to computers that have been made part of a botnet. This effectively means that if your computer has fallen victim to a malware attack, the US Government wants the power to hack its way in there as well. This also raises privacy concerns as well as the potential that they may cause further damage to your computer.
And despite the fact that this is a US Government Committee setting the rules for US Courts, these powers can be used against computers located anywhere in the world, not just in the USA. They could therefore potentially affect all of us, no matter where you are sat as you read this.
Transparency is the issue
And the process by which they are being brought in is far from transparent too. The Department of Justice has passed the amendments to Congress, and unless there is an objection from within Congress by December, they will become law. The proposals grant sweeping new powers to law enforcement agencies in the USA, without a role of any elected official in drawing them up and scrutinizing them.
The EFF is keen to ensure that members of Congress is aware of these changes and that steps are taken to reject them. And that is what their Day of Action is all about.
The date in question is June 21st (tomorrow) and on the EFF website, you will find lots of resources enabling you to demonstrate your own support. Here at VPNCompare.co.uk, we are big supporters of the EFF and sponsor their endeavours, as we feel as strongly as they do about the importance of online privacy.
We will be backing the Day of Action against the proposed changes to Rule 41 and we urge you to as well.