Google Joins Civil Liberties Groups To Oppose Expansion of FBI Spy Powers

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Google Joins Civil Liberties Groups To Oppose Expansion of FBI Spy Powers

'Government is seeking a troubling expansion of its power to surreptitiously hack into computers.'

According to a legal brief submitted by Google, a pending DOJ proposal would allow the FBI to search and seize data from "any facility" in the world. (Image: itpro.co.uk)

Internet giant Google and the American Civil Liberties Union are among the various groups who have objected to a rule change by the U.S. Department of Justice that would give the FBI and other agencies sweeping new powers to perform search and seize private data from online users across the nation and the globe.

According to a brief submitted by Richard Salgado, Google's director for law enforcement, against a pending DOJ proposal, the changes to law enforcement's ability to search remote servers could lead to "government hacking of any facility" in the world and raises "monumental and highly complex constitutional, legal and geopolitical concerns that should be left to Congress to decide."

As the Guardian reports:

The search giant warns that under updated proposals, FBI agents would be able to carry out covert raids on servers no matter where they were situated, giving the US government unfettered global access to vast amounts of private information.

In particular, Google sounds the alarm over the FBI’s desire to “remotely” search computers that have concealed their location – either through encryption or by obscuring their IP addresses using anonymity services such as Tor. Those government searches, Google says, “may take place anywhere in the world. This concern is not theoretical. ... [T]he nature of today’s technology is such that warrants issued under the proposed amendment will in many cases end up authorizing the government to conduct searches outside the United States.”

Google raised its objections as part of a public consultation that ended on Tuesday. Its submission, and 37 others made by interested parties, will be considered by the Advisory Committee on Criminal Rules, an obscure but powerful Washington body consisting mainly of judges that has responsibility over federal rules including those governing the actions of the FBI.

According to the National Journal, the DOJ has characterized the rule change over digital searches as amounting to only "a small-scale tweak of protocol, one that is necessary to align search-warrant procedures with the realities of modern technology." 

Civil liberties groups strongly disagree.

Stating the ACLU's opposition to the DOJ's plan, the group's principal technologist Christopher Soghoian, said: "The government is seeking a troubling expansion of its power to surreptitiously hack into computers, including using malware. Although this proposal is cloaked in the garb of a minor procedural update, in reality it would be a major and substantive change that would be better addressed by Congress."

And digital freedom advocacy group Access, represented by their senior counsel Amie Stepanovich, joined the ACLU, Google, and others by saying that such a profound change, even if difficult to obtain, must come through Congress.

"When you have us resorting to Congress to get increased privacy protections," Stepanovich told the federal panel considering the rule, "we would also like to see the government turn to Congress to get increased surveillance authority."

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