by Vijay Prabhu
Tor and VPN users will be target of government hacks under new spying rule
We had reported a landmark judgement by the United States Supreme Court, which will give FBI powers to hack any computer in the world using a single warrant. The same judgement contains a innocuous para related to Tor and VPN users.
The newly approved rule change by the U.S. Supreme Court will allow FBI to search and seize any computer around the world, found to be using privacy tools like VPN or Tor. The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday quietly approved a rule change to Rule No.41, that would allow a federal magistrate judge to issue a search and seizure warrant for any target using anonymity software like Tor to browse the internet.
Rule 41 will become a law in December if the U.S. Congress doesnt take any legislative action against it. As said in our previous article, the new ruling bestows enormous powers to FBI to be able to search computers remotely—even if the bureau doesn’t know where that computer is located—if a user has anonymity software installed on it.
The rule changes, which the FBI said were necessary to combat cyber crime, come amid escalating tensions between the intelligence community and technology and privacy advocates, and just a day after the U.S. House of Representatives advanced a bill that would require the government to obtain a probable cause warrant from a judge before seizing data stored with tech companies such as Facebook, Google, and Dropbox.
“Whatever euphemism the FBI uses to describe it—whether they call it a ‘remote access search’ or a ‘network investigative technique’—what we’re talking about is government hacking, and this obscure rule change would authorize a lot more of it,” said Kevin Bankston, director of the policy advocacy group Open Technology Institute (OTI), which previously testified against the changes.
“Congress should stop this power-grab in its tracks and instead demand answers from the FBI, which so far has been ducking Congress’ questions on this issue and fighting in court to keep its hacking tactics secret.”
The new rule will affect millions of Tor and VPn users. Many Facebook users are already preferring Tor to surf FB. As of April, over one million people use Tor just to browse Facebook, the social media giant noted in a blog post.
Chief Justice John Roberts submitted the change to Congress as part of the court’s annual collection of amendments to the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, which inform every federal prosecution in the country.
Rule 41, in its current form, stipulates that magistrate judges can only authorize searches within their own jurisdiction. The amendment would allow them to issue warrants to hack into and seize information on a computer if its location has been “concealed through technical means.”
Absence of opposition to the rule could mean that we have a subversive spying campaign against Tor and VPN users around the world without even the user knowing it.
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