The US government is seeking to have more regulatory control over the digital realm, and many tech companies are taking a stand. Google is definitely one of those, taking to its Public Policy Blog today to tell the world about proposed changes to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 41, a procedural rule that sets limits on search warrants. The Advisory Committee on the Rules of Criminal Procedure, at the request of the Department of Justice, is proposing a big change to this rule, and Google says it could be a “monumental” threat to constitutional rights.
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Basically, Rule 41 sets limits on federal judges, keeping them from issuing a search warrant outside of their own district. There are some exceptions to this rule already in place, but the most recent proposed change “would significantly expand those exceptions in cases involving computers and networks,” Google says.
It starts with the Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 41, an arcane but important procedural rule on the issuance of search warrants. Today, Rule 41 prohibits a federal judge from issuing a search warrant outside of the judge’s district, with some exceptions. The Advisory Committee’s proposed change would significantly expand those exceptions in cases involving computers and networks. The proposed change would allow the U.S. government to obtain a warrant to conduct “remote access” searches of electronic storage media if the physical location of the media is “concealed through technological means,” or to facilitate botnet investigations in certain circumstances.
Google’s stance on the proposed rule change is very bold. “The implications of this expansion of warrant power are significant, and are better addressed by Congress,” the company wrote. In comments filed opposing the change, Google’s Richard Salgado said “The serious and complex constitutional concerns implicated by the proposed amendment are numerous and, because of the nature of Fourth Amendment case law development, are unlikely to be addressed by courts in a timely fashion.”