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Security

Senators will introduce a bill to limit government hacking warrants

A U.S. senator will introduce legislation to roll back new court rules that allow judges to give law enforcement agencies the authority to remotely hack computers.

Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, will introduce a bill that would reverse a court procedure rules change, approved by the U.S. Supreme Court last month, that would allow lower judges to issue remote hacking warrants.

The rules change, requested by the Department of Justice, expands the geographical reach of police hacking powers beyond local court jurisdictions now allowed through court-ordered warrants. Previously, the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure prohibited a federal judge from issuing a search warrant outside his or her district.

The changes go into effect on Dec. 1 unless Congress moves to reverse them.

Several digital rights and civil liberties groups, along with some tech companies, have opposed the changes. The new rule "creates new avenues for government hacking that were never approved by Congress," the Electronic Frontier Foundation said in a blog post in April. 

The new rule, allowing warrants targeting data "concealed through technological means,” would give police permission to target users of VPNs or the Tor anonymous browser, the EFF said. "If this rule change is not stopped, anyone who is using any technological means to safeguard their location privacy could find themselves suddenly in the jurisdiction of a prosecutor-friendly or technically-naïve judge, anywhere in the country," the group added.

Senator Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican, will sign on as a co-sponsor of the legislation, scheduled to be introduced next week, said a spokeswoman for Wyden. The proposal has generated bipartisan interest in both the Senate and the House of Representatives, she said.

The bill may be difficult to pass in a national election year, when controversial legislation usually stalls. But Wyden "certainly is going to put this at the top of the priority list," his spokeswoman said.

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