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Google pushes back on expansion of FBI hacking powers

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As US law enforcement agencies look for more power over the digital realm, they're facing increasing pushback from tech companies, particularly Google's public policy arm. With a recent filing, Google pushed back against an obscure committee measure that would seek to give the FBI increased warrant power to seek out servers involved in illegal activity. The measure didn't attract much attention when it was introduced to the Department of Justice last year, but today Google put it on the front page of the company's public policy blog, calling out the measure as "a small rule change that could give the US government sweeping new warrant power."

"A small rule change that could give... sweeping new warrant power."

The core of the issue is the catch-22 law enforcement faces when tracking down criminal activity on the web: it's hard to track down the original location of a server without a warrant, but to get that warrant, law enforcement often needs to know what jurisdiction the criminal is operating out of. The new amendment would let the FBI get a warrant for a remote access search regardless of the location, provided the data in question had been "concealed through technological means" or was part of a larger computer fraud investigation. It's would be a powerful new legal tool, and it clearly has Google concerned on privacy grounds. The company's response says the amendment, "raises a number of monumental and highly complex constitutional, legal, and geopolitical concerns." If the government really needs that power, Google argues, it should pass a law in Congress, rather than relying on the Department of Justice to change the procedures in a smaller committee.

It's an issue we're likely to see play out in courts, committees and possibly congress for years to come, but it's noteworthy to see Google emerging as a leading voice on the issue. Google was the only tech company to offer a public comment on the amendment, although privacy groups like the ACLU, EPIC and Center for Democracy and Technology offered similar analysis. Lavabit CEO Ladar Levison also weighed in on the proposed amendment, saying that it showed "little consideration for the realities of law, and technology."