Google is boldly opposing an attempt by the US Department of Justice to expand federal powers to search and seize digital data, warning that the changes would open the door to US “government hacking of any facility” in the world.
In a strongly worded submission to a Washington committee that is considering the proposed changes, Google says that increasing the FBI’s powers set out in search warrants would raise “monumental and highly complex constitutional, legal and geopolitical concerns that should be left to Congress to decide.”
The search giant warns that under updated proposals, FBI agents would be able to carry out covert raids on servers no matter where they were situated, giving the US government unfettered global access to vast amounts of private information.
In particular, Google sounds the alarm over the FBI’s desire to “remotely” search computers that have concealed their location — either through encryption or by obscuring their IP addresses using anonymity services such as Tor.
Those government searches “may take place anywhere in the world. This concern is not theoretical… [T]he nature of today’s technology is such that warrants issued under the proposed amendment will in many cases end up authorizing the government to conduct searches outside the United States,” Google says.
Google raised its objections as part of a public consultation that ended on Tuesday.
Its submission, and 37 others made by interested parties , will be considered by the Advisory Committee on Criminal Rules, an obscure, but powerful Washington body consisting mainly of judges that has responsibility over federal rules, including those governing the actions of the FBI.
Federal agents wishing to search a property have to apply to a judge for a warrant to do so.
Under existing rules, known as Rule 41, the authorizing judge has to be located in the same district as the property to be searched.
However, the Justice Department says that in the modern computer age, such an arrangement no longer works.
It is calling for the scope of warrants to be widened so that FBI agents can search property — in this case computers — outside the judge’s district.
The FBI says that this new power would be essential in investigations where suspects have concealed the location of their computer networks.
A comment to the committee from a coalition of prosecutors, the National Association of Assistant US Attorneys, said that “suspects are increasingly using sophisticated anonymizing technologies and proxy services designed to hide their true IP addresses. This creates significant difficulties for law enforcement to identify the district in which the electronic information is located.”
The department has tried to assuage anxieties about its proposed amendment. In its comment to the committee, officials say that federal agents would only request the new type of warrants where there was “probable cause to search for or seize evidence, fruits, or instrumentalities of crime.”
However, civil liberties and legal groups remain unconvinced, insisting that the language is so vaguely worded that it would have draconian and global implications.
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