Senate fails to stop FBI's expanded hacking authority

The FBI will have the freedom to hack computers in any jurisdiction.

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

So much for that bipartisan Senate bid to prevent the FBI from gaining expanded hacking powers. Senators Ron Wyden, Chris Coons and Steve Daines have failed to block changes to the US' criminal procedure rules (specifically, Rule 41) that would let the FBI hack computers in any jurisdiction provided they have a search warrant. Texas Senator John Cornyn and other Republican leaders thwarted the measure. The rule change should take effect on December 1st, barring surprises.

The Justice Department has been a champion of the expanded authority. It contends that they're necessary to update procedures for the modern age, when Tor, botnets and similar anonymizing software can make it difficult to identify where a criminal is operating. It also contended that any potential for damage would be slim, and more than offset by the advantages that come from pursuing criminals wherever they hide.

Needless to say, Wyden and team aren't happy. They're concerned that officials didn't do enough to consider the possible dangers of the rule change, and that this expansion of surveillance could have unintended consequences. What happens if the FBI hacks the victims of a botnet, rather than the perpetrators? What if a politician abuses this authority to target opponents? The Senators aren't certain that the expansion represents doom and gloom, but they would have liked more time to find out.