Does the thought of being spied on by your own government scare you? We've known for a while now that the National Security Agency (NSA) had been secretly getting personal information from telecommunications companies for years. We also told you that Yahoo was working with the government in 2015 to scan all customers' incoming emails.
If those stories worry you, you're not going to like what's happening now. As of today, the U.S. government's spying power is being expanded.
The U.S. government uses spying techniques to try and prevent terrorism and cyberattacks. Skeptics worry that these techniques could be reverse-engineered and used against the government or innocent Americans. The loss of personal privacy is another issue government spying brings to light.
Now, there is a rule change that dramatically expands the government's hacking and surveillance authority.
Rule 41 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure puts limits on how the FBI obtains electronic search warrants for computer networks. Before today, a federal judge could only authorize federal agents to install malware on computers that they suspect are being used for criminal activity. The computer also had to be located within the judge's jurisdiction.
Changes to Rule 41 that went into effect December 1 removed those limitations. Federal agents can now use a single search warrant to hack millions of Americans' gadgets at once.
The Justice Department says that the changes were needed to keep up with changes in criminal technology. Specifically, the expanded use of botnets.
Why skeptics are worried
Some politicians and tech companies, including Google, oppose the rule changes. They say that victims of crimes could be negatively impacted twice. Once by being hacked by the criminal and again when they're hacked by their own government.
Skeptics also say the victims' gadgets could be damaged and their data could be destroyed.
A bipartisan group of senators took to the Senate floor this week to try and block or delay the changes. However, senate leadership denied their request for a vote.
Senator Ron Wyden said, "By sitting here and doing nothing, the Senate has given consent to this expansion of government hacking and surveillance. Law-abiding Americans are going to ask 'what were you guys thinking?' when the FBI starts hacking victims of a botnet to hack. Or when a mass hack goes awry and breaks their device, or an entire hospital system and puts lives at risk."
Wyden says he will introduce a bill trying to repeal the rule in the next Congress.
Do you think this expansion of government power is good or bad? If you would like to get involved, the best way is to let your elected officials know your thoughts. Click here for the best way to contact your congressperson.