US Senate introduces bill that would limit FBI's power to remotely hack devices

The Capitol Building in Washington D.C., via Wikipedia.

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The FBI's attempt to expand its surveillance and hacking authority, spotlighted by a public spat over encryption with Apple, has met resistance from members of the U.S. Senate, where a newly introduced bill would block search warrants for remote devices [updated].

In the wake of its encryption battle with Apple over the San Bernadino shooting, the FBI's request to access remote computers with search warrants has been granted, pending judicial rule. The Supreme Court ruling has drawn the ire of several bipartisan senators, who have introduced the "Stop Mass Hacking Act" to block access, as noted by Reuters.

Introduced by Ron Wyden (D-Oreg.) and Rand Paul (R-Ken.), the one-page bill aims to undo the recent judicial ruling adopted in the Supreme Court. Legal experts believe the ruling dramatically expands the power of U.S. judges in issuing search warrants, as well as in granting the FBI unfettered access to any remote computer — even overseas.

While the proposed bill would have no direct effect on the encryption debate involving Apple, the spat between the iPhone maker and the U.S. Department of Justice has helped bring about a national discussion regarding power the government wields as it works to fight crime and terrorism, and how those policies may affect the civil liberties of citizens.

"This is a dramatic expansion of the government's hacking and surveillance authority," Wyden said. "Such a substantive change with an enormous impact on Americans' constitutional rights should be debated by Congress, not maneuvered through an obscure bureaucratic process."

The new ruling could give the FBI full access to remote computers with just a search warrant. Opposition from the Senate and elsewhere highlights the ongoing debate over law enforcement's need to adapt to modern technology, versus the rights of individual citizens to be protected from prying eyes.

Prior to the most recent rule change, magistrate judges could order searches only within the court jurisdiction limited to a few county areas. But now it's believed that law enforcement could obtain a warrant for a remote device located in any jurisdiction.

Organizations for civil liberties, Google and others have publicly opposed the change, arguing for proper authorization by Congress first.

In the last six months of 2015, the U.S. law enforcement agencies requested information on nearly 5,200 Apples accounts, and some data was disclosed in 82 percent of those cases.

Three senators — Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.) have also co-sponsored the bill. Congress has until Dec. 1 to make any changes, postpone or reject the proposed changes.