The FBI's Quiet Plan to Begin Mass Hacking
Senator Ron Wyden delivered a speech on the floor of the Senate on Thursday calling for passage of a bill that would annul new rules for judges. These rules will give the FBI authority to hack millions of people's computers with a single search warrant, regardless of where the device is located.
The Stop Mass Hacking Act (S. 2952, H.R. 5321), which has bipartisan support, is composed of a single sentence:
"To prevent the proposed amendments to rule 41 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure from taking effect."
Wyden's bill attempts to stop the upcoming changes to Rule 41, set to take effect in less than 90 days.
The changes to Rule 41 would allow judges to grant warrants to search and seize electronic media located outside of their home districts when the location of the information is “concealed through technological means."
For instance, when a person is using Tor.
The broad search warrants allowable under these new rules will apply to people using Tor in any country—even if they are journalists, members of a legislature, or human rights activists. The FBI will be permitted to hack into a person’s computer or phone remotely and to search through and remove their data. The FBI will be able to introduce malware into computers. It will create vulnerabilities that will leave users exposed.
To quote a tweet from Daniel Shuman of the NGO Demand Progress, "Even if you like mass FBI hacking, shouldn't the Senate hold a hearing first before it automatically becomes law?"
We are at a critical point in the United States regarding surveillance law. Some public officials, like those at the US Department of Justice (the FBI is a department of DOJ), understand very well how surveillance technology works and the implications of the Rule 41 changes. But the judges who must approve these warrants under the new rules vary widely in their technical expertise and understanding of how these decisions affect the larger Constitutional issues of search and seizure. Rule 41 will allow savvy law enforcement officials to seek those judges who don't yet understand the tech.
Similarly, there are many members of Congress who don't yet understand either the technology or its impact on democratic institutions and values. Some understand that Tor and encryption are currently used by politicians, judges, and even the FBI to keep their communications private--but others do not. Some—but not all—know that privacy tools like Tor can help enforce the separation of powers by preventing one branch of government from spying on another. Some know that a back door for one good guy is eventually a back door for multiple bad guys. Many others do not.
So some US officials can take advantage of this ignorance in order to expand their power. And since the FBI works for the Department of Justice, and the Department of Justice works for the White House, Rule 41 gives new surveillance power to the Administrative branch of US government. New power over millions of people--that Congress never discussed or approved.
Why go through Congress, the reasoning goes, and risk public exposure, debate, and possible defeat, when law enforcement can tweak a rulebook and get the same new hacking power?
If you care about FBI mass hacking, urge Congress to pass the Stop Mass Hacking bill on social media with the hashtag #SMHAct (one of the better legislative hashtags).
If you are an American citizen, there is much more you can do. Here is a seemingly minor thing--but one that can have great impact. Call and leave a message with the Washington, DC, office of the US Senator from your state. Senators actually count these calls, and they influence their decisions--Perhaps they don't want to be voted out of office by the constituents they ignored.
Here is a list of Senators' phone numbers (calling is much more effective than email for this purpose): http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm?Orde…
Your call or voicemail can be very simple:
"My name is _____, I am Senator ____'s constituent in the state of ___, and I support the "Stop Mass Hacking Act." I ask Senator _____ to support The Stop Mass Hacking Act also and that it be considered during this work period. Thank you.”
You can also leave a thank you message with Senator Wyden's office--This gives Wyden more ballast to encourage his colleagues to support the bill).
If you make those calls or leave voicemails and you're on Twitter, tweet that you called your Senator using their Twitter handle and the #SMHAct hashtag. This amplifies the power of the phone call.
The Stop Mass Hacking Act has bipartisan support. Senator Steve Daines (R-Montana), along with Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin) and Jon Tester (D-Montana) are original co-sponsors of the Senate bill.
People listen to the Tor community on issues of anonymity technology. But the threat to anonymity can be just as destructive when it comes because of a small rule change--a bureaucratic sleight of hand---as when it comes through a attack on our software by a state intelligence agency. As Tor users, our threat model includes both, so our response as a community must also include both.
UPDATE: Phoning is by far most important. Then you can tweet to your Senator.
The Twitter accounts for US Senators are here: http://www.socialseer.com/resources/us-senator-twitter-accounts/ #SMHAct