US lawmakers are racing against time to delay the implantation of new rules that will expand the rights of the federal government to remotely search digital devices like smartphones and PCs.
On December 1, amendments to rule 41 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure are scheduled to go into effect. They will allow a judge the rights to issue a warrant for law enforcement agencies to remotely search, copy, and seize information from a digital device that does not have a known location, because it has been hidden through some kind of software or hardware technology. The new rules will apply even if the device turns out not to be in the district where the judge normally would have jurisdiction.
The amendments to the rule were approved in April by the U.S. Supreme Court. However, many lawmakers, along with civil rights groups and technology companies, fear that these changes will give judges too much power and could result in many privacy conflicts. Indeed, Google sounded off against these changes in February. In a filing made to the Advisory Committee on the Rules of Criminal Procedure, the company stated, “Remote searches of media or information that have been ‘concealed through technological means’ may take place anywhere in the world.”
Now a group of US Senators and Representatives have filed a bill called Review the Rule Act. If it is passed into law before December 1, it will delay the implantation of those rule changes until July 1 so lawmakers can perhaps make some changes to them. However, with less than two weeks to make the bill a law, it remains to be seen if this last-minute effort will have any effect.