Google is warning against a government plan to expand the FBI’s ability to access computer files remotely. According to the tech giant, the changes could give the U.S. government the ability to hack any computer in the world.
Google’s concerns stem from the Department of Justice’s attempt to rewrite Rule 41, a provision that regulates how judges are able to grant warrants for remote computer searches. Currently, a computer tap must be authorized by a judge whose jurisdiction covers the place of the computer under investigation.
The Department of Justice initiated a plan last year allow judges to approve search warrants for remote snooping on computers outside their districts. DOJ officials claim the change is needed because investigators don’t always know where a computer is located.
But Google law enforcement and information security expert Richard Salgado told Justice Department officials in recent comments on the proposal that the plan would substantially expand government search capabilities.
The proposed change “raises a number of monumental and highly complex constitutional, legal, and geopolitical concerns that should be left to Congress to decide,” he wrote.
If the DOJ change goes through, judges in the U.S. would have the ability to issue warrants for the hacking of millions of American computers and potentially more overseas.
If the rule change takes place without congressional input, Google says that courts will have a hard time keeping up with potential threats to American privacy.
“The serious and complex constitutional concerns implicated by the proposed amendment are numerous and, because of the nature of Fourth Amendment case law development, are unlikely to be addressed by courts in a timely fashion,” Salgado wrote.
The American Civil Liberties Union has also weighed in on the plan, saying DOJ officials are attempting to make a major change by disguising it as a minor update to an existing regulation.
“The government is seeking a troubling expansion of its power to surreptitiously hack into computers, including using malware,” ACLU technologist, Christopher Soghoian told the Guardian. “Although this proposal is cloaked in the garb of a minor procedural update, in reality it would be a major and substantive change that would be better addressed by Congress.”
Government officials, meanwhile, are accusing critics of the plan of “misreading the text of the proposal or misunderstanding current law.”