Google warns US government it will fight proposals to allow “remote access” to every computer and device
Search engine giant Google has voiced its opposition to proposals for what it regards as dangerous new powers for the US government.
The proposals concern search warrants, and would potentially allow US authorities such as the FBI to obtain a search warrant for “remote access” searches of devices and computers, anywhere in the world.
Google revealed that the proposed changes for the issue of search warrants in the US could lead to all types of devices and computers being tracked, and accessed, around the world.
It issued the warning in a blog posting by Richard Salgado, Google’s Legal Director, Law Enforcement and Information Security. Google said the proposed changes need to be debated by the US Congress.
“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,” blogged Salgado.
The proposed changes concern a federal law governing the issuing of search warrants. At it stands, the Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 41 prohibits a federal judge from issuing a search warrant outside of the judge’s district, with some exceptions.
The US authorities say with the rule change, searches would be more useful when investigating botnets, for example.
“But the proposed change to this significantly expand those exceptions in cases involving computers and networks, and effectively allow the US 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,” wrote Salgado.
Salgado took issue with the phrase ‘concealed by technological means’, as it could be applied to the kinds of virtual private networks (VPNs) used by retailers, banks, and businesses to keep their networks secure.
He warned that the proposed amendment would likely end up being used by US authorities to directly search computers and devices around the world. He also warned that the proposed change threatens to undermine the privacy rights and computer security of Internet users globally.
Salgado pointed out that the proposed change does not define what a “remote search” is or under what circumstances and conditions a remote search can be undertaken. It just assumes that these global “remote searches” will be “constitutional and otherwise legal”, if the proposals are made into law.
“The Advisory Committee is entertaining a dramatic change to electronic surveillance rules,” warned Salgado. “Congress is the proper body to determine whether such changes are warranted, and we urge the Committee to respect Congress’ traditional role in prescribing the substantive rules governing electronic surveillance.”
Google has officially filed its opposition to the changes here.
This is not the first time Google has voiced its concern at search warrants. Last July, Google was ordered by a federal judge in New York to give US prosecutors access to the Gmail emails of an unnamed user, who was part of a criminal investigation into money laundering.
A similar case took place in April 2014, when a US Magistrate in New York ordered Microsoft to hand over information held at its Dublin, Ireland data centre to US law enforcement.
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