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On Thursday, December 1, a vital Supreme Court order is set to go into effect that dramatically expands the surveillance power of federal agents. The impending alteration to Rule 41 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure softens the legal requirements for obtaining search and seizure warrants that grant the government remote access to individuals’ computers and phones.
In the past, law enforcement was required to obtain a warrant from a judge within the jurisdiction where the proposed search was going take place. Under this new system, however, if an individual is using technology to conceal their location, the warrant is considered valid regardless of jurisdiction. A single authorization will have the potential to validate millions of searches on private devices. Any journalist, activist, or whistleblower who values privacy and uses tools like Freenet or the Tor network will fall directly into the crosshairs.
As USA Today summarized, the rule change was “sought by the Justice Department, adopted by the U.S. Federal Courts, and approved on April 28 by the Supreme Court without much fanfare.”
These changes have been on the fast track since the FBI had evidence thrown out in a recent child pornography case. The defendant was using the Tor network to conceal his IP address and operating a child pornography site known as Playpen. The Department of Justice and FBI refused to disclose the legal process used to gain access to the evidence, likely because they did not follow proper legal protocols. As a result, at least some of their evidence was rejected by the court.
The controversy was compounded by the FBI’s use of Playpen’s servers to set up a massive sting, known as Operation Pacifier. The pedophilic porn site was run directly by federal agents for over two weeks in an attempt to round up any individuals using the network. These same agencies are now claiming that without changes to the current rule, their ability to put the scum of society behind bars is severely restricted.
The dark web has been subverting the controllable marketplace for years, but through the eyes of the government, anything outside of their dominance is equivalent to insurrection. Without a doubt, anonymity online creates a double-edged sword of freedom versus lawlessness, so it’s no surprise significant action has been taken to crack down on this space under the guise of national security and public safety.
In this vein, the modification of Rule 41 has been framed as crucial in preventing crime even though implementing it grants sweeping authority to the State.