What is Rule 41?
On December 1st 2016 the amendments to Rule 41 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure by the United States Department of Justice became law. The amendments give the FBI greater power and authority in cybercrime investigations. The most significant changes to rule 41 allow the government to hack and monitor multiple computers all over the world with a single warrant and place and allow a judge to issue a search warrant to access and seize a computer running privacy protection tools such as Tor or a VPN. Recently there has been a trend of computer privacy laws being passed minimal media coverage and Rule 41 is no exception. [Congress slips CISA into NASA bill]
Before the changes to Rule 41 went into effect had to receive a warrant in every judicial district in order to confiscate or deploy surveillance malware on a device belonging to either a suspected criminal or a victim of cybercrime. Rule 41 gives cybercrime detectives the tools and authority needed to quickly detect and stop a cybercrime before more damage can occur.
Privacy advocates have stated that the power granted to the government to install surveillance tools on the devices of victims with or without the victim’s consent is an overreach of power and violates a victim’s privacy and fourth amendment right. Many fear that allowing judges to issue warrants outside of their districts will allow law enforcement to rely on the same judges to easily receive warrants to target any individual around the world. Rule 41 also discourages users from using privacy and data protection tools such as VPN to protect themselves on public networks.
How will Rule 41 affect the average American citizen?
Creating policy on for the use of technology is a constant struggle between security, privacy, and convenience. Senator’s Ron Wyden, Chris Coons, and Steve Daines were unsuccessful at delaying the amendments to Rule 41 for 6 months. Rule 41 severely compromises privacy while promising increased security for American citizens. However, without transparency and an effective check and balance system law enforcement will most likely misuse Rule 41.
To those repeating the same argument: If you have nothing to hide then you shouldn’t be worried, remember when NSA officials were using surveillance tools to spy on their spouses [source]? Rule 41 is another quietly introduced new law which further erodes the privacy rights of American citizens.