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Supreme Court OKs change to expand FBI's hacking powers

The rule change would let the FBI obtain a single warrant to hack into "thousands or millions of computers at once," says Sen. Ron Wyden.

Is a nation state behind those hacking hands?
C.J. Burton/Corbis

The US Supreme Court approved on Thursday a rule change that would make it easier for the Department of Justice to obtain warrants for electronic devices.

The change lets US judges issue search warrants for computers and other electronic devices located in any jurisdiction, not just their own. The Justice Department has described it as a minor change needed to update federal criminal code for the digital age, according to Reuters. Some lawmakers and civil liberties groups, however, say it's really an attempt to expand the FBI's ability to conduct mass hacks.

"These amendments will have significant consequences for Americans' privacy and the scope of the government's powers to conduct remote surveillance and searches of electronic devices," Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden said in a statement Thursday. "Under the proposed rules, the government would now be able to obtain a single warrant to access and search thousands or millions of computers at once; and the vast majority of the affected computers would belong to the victims, not the perpetrators, of a cybercrime."

Congress has until December 1 to reject or changes the rule. If lawmakers take no action, the rule goes into effect on that date.

The Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.