The U.S. Supreme Court has recently approved a rule change that allows law enforcement officers to search computers remotely from around the world.
Before this rule change, magistrate judges could only order searches within the jurisdiction of their court, which is limited to a few counties.
The Department of Justice has been pushing for this change for a few years, arguing that criminals are often able to avoid arrest by masking their identity and location online. Allowing remote searches would allow law enforcement officers to access a suspect’s computer via the Internet to explore the content of the computer.
Remote online searches would still be subject to laws requiring warrants and protecting suspects from unreasonable searches and seizures.
The Department of Justice has argued that since criminals have access to all of the resources of the Internet and hacking law enforcement offices should have that same access.
This change may be backed by the Department of Justice, however organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union and massive search engines such as Google, claim that this change “threatens to undermine the privacy rights and computer security of Internet users.”
Chief Justice John Roberts gave the change in rules to Congress, who will have until December 1st to reject or modify the rules. If Congress does not act then the rules will take effect automatically. Congress has the power to reject the rules governing federal courts, however Congress hardly exercises that authority. It is unlikely that they will during a heated election year.