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Give Congress Time to Debate New Government Hacking Rule

Thursday, November 17, 2016 18:33
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If Congress doesn’t act soon, federal investigators will have access to new, sweeping hacking powers due to a rule change set to go into effect on Dec. 1.

That’s why Sens. Chris Coons, Ron Wyden, Mike Lee, and others introduced a bipartisan bill today, the Review the Rule Act, which would push that rule change back to July 1. That would give our elected officials more time to debate whether law enforcement should be able to, with one warrant from one judge, hack into an untold number of computers and devices wherever they’re located.

We’ve long expressed concerns that the proposed changes to Rule 41 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure threatens privacy and security, and we hope Congress acts on this new bill to give this issue the time and consideration it deserves.

Speaking on the Senate floor this morning, Coons—who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, a committee of jurisdiction on the issue—and Wyden called for more time to let Congress weigh in. “Neither the Senate nor the House held a hearing or a markup on the relevant committees to evaluate these changes,” Coons said. “The body of government closest to the people has failed to weigh in at all on an issue that immediately and directly impacts our constituents’ rights.”

Wyden countered the defense of the rule change we often hear from law enforcement officials that letting investigators hack into computers around the world is only small, procedural tweak. Instead Wyden called it “an enormous policy shift.”

The pair of lawmakers also stressed the fact that the bipartisan push for further consideration of the rule change started before Donald Trump won the presidential election this month. Wyden, Coons, and 21 other members of Congress sent a letter in late October asking U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch for more information about how the government plans to operate once the rule change goes into effect.

“This was alarming before Nov. 8,” Wyden said. “Now we need to consider the prospects of an administration lead by someone who openly said he wants the power to hack his political opponents.”

We’re encouraged that the bill has bipartisan support in both the Senate and the House, where Reps. John Conyers and Ted Poe introduced a companion bill, and we hope Congress gives itself more time to hold hearings and fully debate whether to give law enforcement these sweeping computer hacking powers.

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