In two days, the Department of Justice will effectively be granted the ability to hack into anyone’s computer, worldwide. The best part — they don’t have to do anything for the “update” to be implemented.
The amendments to Rule 41, according to the official documents, gives “a magistrate judge with authority in any district where activities related to a crime may have occurred has authority to issue a warrant to use remote access to search electronic storage media and to seize or copy electronically stored information located within or outside that district if: (A) the district where the media or information is located has been concealed through technological means…” To understand what this means, we have to understand who this implicates as a potential target, and the fact that nothing is explicitly stated gives the DOJ more freedom to interpret it differently in a range of situations. Take a second and imagine you’re trying to come up with an excuse to get into someone’s computer — Tor and VPN users aside, even those who use fabricated information on social networks could be targeted. You signed up for a facebook account with your spam email?! You concealed your identity and information, and therefore you’re probably a criminal!
Obviously there’s no evidence to suggest that the DOJ plans to use fake profiles as reasoning to obtain a warrant and hack your computer, but the idea that they potentially could is scary. Now, as far as VPN and Tor users go, they must be criminals, right? Wrong. News outlets that cater to the technologically incompetent masses paint a picture of Tor as a safe haven for drug dealers and pedophiles, and the DOJ hides behind these generalizations to push their agenda. In the same way that the FBI wanted Apple to create a tool that would allow them backdoor access to iPhones, the DOJ wants to be able to access your devices. Sure, the FBI would have used the tool to access a terrorist’s phone, and the DOJ would probably catch a substantial number of pedophiles and drug dealers — I’m in no way defending them or their actions — but their are countless legitimate users of Tor, VPN services and other things that the DOJ would consider suspicious. For example — my school’s wifi networks block hundreds of urls, from gmail to reddit (this is an entirely different issue altogether), and as a result, the majority of classmates, myself included, use a VPN to browse the internet on the school wifi. Many, if not most of my peers have no idea how any of it works, just that they can freely use the internet. However, after December 1st, we’ll all be potential targets for the DOJ. Another, more prominent example of legitimate usage of Tor, or a VPN, is journalism. To protect themselves, it’s not uncommon for journalists to communicate with sources over Tor, or use a VPN to log onto stuff from an unsecured network. Further, in other parts of the world, where the national government censors the internet, the average person might need to use one of these services to “fight the power,” or even just in day to day life. These people are also vulnerable to the DOJ’s crooked perception of justice.
Sure, this is a subject that has already been well covered by a wide range of news outlets, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation. However, when Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell claims, via blog post, that, effectively, nothing is changing, I start to get concerned. In addition, seeing as the Rule 41 update is still coming, I’m questioning whether the American people actually support it, or whether it’s just the DOJ pulling a fast one on us.
Side Note: This hasn’t actually been proofread, or even re-read, so hopefully it makes sense. Oh well.