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Small Rule Change That Could Give the U.S. Government Sweeping New Warrant Power, posted by Richard Salgado, Legal Director, Law Enforcement and Information Security, by Sabrina I Pacifici, BeSpacific Blog


‘At the request of the Department of Justice, a little-known body — the Advisory Committee on the Rules of Criminal Procedure — is proposing a significant change to procedural rules that could have profound implications for the privacy rights and security interests of everyone who uses the Internet. Last week, Google filed comments opposing this change. It starts with the Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 41, an arcane but important procedural rule on the issuance of search warrants. Today, Rule 41 prohibits a federal judge from issuing a search warrant outside of the judge’s district, with some exceptions. The Advisory Committee’s proposed change would significantly expand those exceptions in cases involving computers and networks. The proposed change would allow the U.S. government to obtain a warrant to conduct ‘remote access’ searches of electronic storage media if the physical location of the media is ‘concealed through technological means,’ or to facilitate botnet investigations in certain circumstances. The implications of this expansion of warrant power are significant, and are better addressed by Congress. First, in setting aside the traditional limits under Rule 41, the proposed amendment would likely end up being used by U.S. authorities to directly search computers and devices around the world. Even if the intent of the proposed change is to permit U.S. authorities to obtain a warrant to directly access and retrieve data only from computers and devices within the U.S., there is nothing in the proposed change to Rule 41 that would prevent access to computers and devices worldwide. The U.S. has many diplomatic arrangements in place with other countries to cooperate in investigations that cross national borders, including Mutual Legal Assistance Treaties (MLATs). Google supports ongoing efforts to improve cooperation among governments, and we are concerned that the proposed change to Rule 41 could undermine those efforts. The significant foreign relations issues associated with the proposed change to Rule 41 should be addressed by Congress and the President, not the Advisory Committee.’