Changes to a rule that expand government hacking powers quietly went into effect at midnight on Thursday, after senators failed to halt their implementation.
The amendments (pdf) to Rule 41 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure now allow intelligence agents to get warrants to hack into computers that are outside of the judicial district where the warrant was issued, if the target is using anonymity or encryption software like virtual private networks (VPNs), Tor browsing, or other protection tools.
Under previous rules, FBI agents were required to get warrants from federal magistrate judges in the districts in which the computers were located—which meant targets who used privacy software were more secure against government spying. There are more than 500 federal magistrate judges around the U.S.
“So,” the digital rights group Fight for the Future said this week, “if the FBI wants to hack you but they don’t have evidence that passes muster with your local federal judge, they will be able to take their case to a more lenient (or more naïve) judge located anywhere in the country.”