Senators Wyden And Paul Introduce SMH Bill To Stop Massive Expansion Of Gov't Computer Hacking

from the smdh dept

We’ve written a few times now about Rule 41, a proposal that was put forth by the Justice Department last year, in what they claimed was a mere “administrative” change to the rules covering their ability to hack into computers. But the reality is that the change would allow the DOJ/FBI to basically hack into millions of computers overseas based on a single warrant and basically no oversight. The whole concept was a disaster, as many civil liberties and tech companies explained at the time. But none of that mattered, apparently. The Judicial Conference Advisory Committee approved the request back in March, and the Supreme Court gave its blessing a few weeks ago.

This is a very dangerous power being handed over to a government agency that has shown a history of being willing to abuse such powers. And it was done without any legislative change, but merely by running it up through the courts as a mere administrative change. At least some in Congress are not happy about this. Senators Ron Wyden and Rand Paul have now introduced a bill to stop this change, called the Stopping Mass Hacking Act, or SMH Act, which is explained here. Of course, there’s really not much to explain: the bill basically just says that the new rules will not be allowed to go into effect. The explanation is just more details on how awful Rule 41 will be for everyone.

Of course, “SMH” has another definition as well that may be more recognized by folks on the internet: Shaking My Head. And, it seems that Wyden is well aware of this, as he’s put up a Medium post about this new bill with the title Shaking My Head, and this gif:

Well played.

In that post, Wyden notes:

For law enforcement to conduct a remote electronic search, they generally need to plant malware in???i.e. hack???a device. These rule changes will allow the government to search millions of computers with the warrant of a single judge. To me, that?s clearly a policy change that?s outside the scope of an ?administrative change,? and it is something that Congress should consider. An agency with the record of the Justice Department shouldn?t be able to wave its arms and grant itself entirely new powers.


These changes would dramatically expand the government?s hacking and surveillance authority. The American public should understand that these changes won?t just affect criminals: computer security experts and civil liberties advocates say the amendments would also dramatically expand the government?s ability to hack the electronic devices of law-abiding Americans if their devices were affected by a computer attack. Devices will be subject to search if their owners were victims of a botnet attack???so the government will be treating victims of hacking the same way they treat the perpetrators.

There’s a lot more in that article describing just how ridiculous this situation is. It’s a travesty that it was pushed through as an administrative change, and hopefully the rest of Congress agrees. Of course, getting Congress to actually rein in the power of law enforcement to spy on people, tragically, feels like a long shot. Either way, it’s worth letting your own Senators know how important this issue is to you.

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Comments on “Senators Wyden And Paul Introduce SMH Bill To Stop Massive Expansion Of Gov't Computer Hacking”

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Ehud Gavron (profile) says:

Begging the question of legal installation of malware

Throughout all these discussion the begged question seems to be whether it’s lawful to install malware if done by law enforcement in the first place.

There is a fundamental difference between malware that spies on me and a planted hidden microphone. Even the latter have been problematic (see e.g. FBI and California courthouse steps). The former, however, do much more than merely “listen”. They STEAL CPU-cycles, STEAL electricity, STEAL cooling, STEAL memory, and render some percentage of your otherwise 100%-yours PC no longer yours. That theft of service should require a warrant.

Second, the malware itself may open the system up to other attacks. No matter how insecure Windows is, there’s a prevailing assumption that if the user doesn’t download malicious software then it will be fairly secure. Here’s a piece of malicious software forced on the user, that has not undergone security review to see if it’s free of any “mal” intent other than that of its authors and users.

I would like to see the media step up and start questioning where the hell the government got the idea they have the LAWFUL RIGHT to install malware, STEAL the above items, and OPEN the computer up to potential other attacks… all things that are FAR FAR FAR and beyond a simple “spy microphone.”


Anonymous Coward says:

Wide bitartisan support in congress IS possible

The trick to getting Congress to pass a bill like this is to point out that the DoJ attempted to do an end-run around congress and apropriate power that rightfully belongs to congress for itself — and deny congresspeople the ability to gain political points on either side of this issue, minimizing the lobbying funding they can take in.

Phrased that way, they’ll approve the bill in short order.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: "Originalists" Where are they now?

Everyone knows only “terrorists” believe in constitutional rights instead of just letting your government decide what is best for it’s citizens.

Remember, the U.S. Constitution was written by terrorists. So, of course, it’s going to have to go away in any “war on terror”.

Whatever (profile) says:

King Knute

Wyden will soon introduce the Tide Revocation and Sand Help act (TRASH Act), which will force the moon to no longer control the tides touching US shores, instead encouraging an open source app to allow individual coast line property owners to decide when and where the tide should be for their property.

The newly created Tide Observation and Surveillance Service (TOSS) will take care of applying TRASH for Governement waterfront, the TOSS TRASH project will fulfill Wyden’s desire to control the otherwise uncontrollable.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: King Knute

So just to be clear, you seem to be implying that the bill they are pushing is trying to ‘control the otherwise uncontrollable’, by that are you saying that trying to make it illegal via a bill for a government agency to hack any computer they want to is not possible? That government agencies aren’t beholden to follow government laws?

That would probably be news to the politicians and a good number of the citizens, even if in practice that does seem to be exactly how things go these days, with government agencies paying attention only to the laws they feel like following and treating the rest as optional.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: King Knute

I think Whatever has changed lately. He’s evolved from being a simple authoritarian into a form more suitable for a governmental dystopia rife with contradiction.

He has become a Paradoxical Authoritarian, living in a world where the law is the law, except when the lawgivers rescind a law. In this case the enforcers must apply the law even when it’s not the law, because the law fails only when it questions its own validity.

Whatever (profile) says:

Re: Re: King Knute

“you saying that trying to make it illegal via a bill for a government agency to hack any computer they want to is not possible? That government agencies aren’t beholden to follow government laws?”

I think that there is a conflict between the state goal of a spy agency and such a law. A big part of spying is obtaining information that someone might not otherwise want to give up, and that information may be obtained using methods that are, well, a little out of bounds. When you remember that much of what is obtained is not used to pursue a court case, you can understand where they can operate in spaces that are perhaps not as comfortable for all of us.

Outlawing hacking would essentially be crippling the agencies and putting them at a significant disadvantage. It would be like coming 50 years ago and saying wiretaps and hidden microphones shouldn’t be used. It would tie the hands of a spy agency and make it very difficult for them to do their jobs.

Ehud Gavron (profile) says:

Anonimity, Cowardice, and Credibility

I don’t care if Whatever is Whomever and I don’t think most people reading comments on TD do either.

Credibility in online comments comes either because the comment is incredibly useful in content (either insightful, informative, funny, etc.) or (and also) because the commentator is well-known… like ThatOneGuy.

However, no matter what, if what you post is trollish boorish uneducated “rabble rabble rabble” all you’re doing is spewing. If you did it at the dinner table mom would send you to go get a mop and clean it before going to your room. In an online forum defending free expression — even anonymously, it’s not quite that simple.

I read the troll stuff and laugh. Nobody who reads TD with an open mind hates Ron Wyden. Only people with agendas (paid or otherwise) do.

Part of reading is critical thinking. If you can do that you can ignore the trolls. It just annoys them more.


John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Anonimity, Cowardice, and Credibility

Continuity of identity is very useful, Context is important, and continuity of identity provides additional context.

For example, I have a long enough continuous identity here that I no longer feel as much of a need to include various disclaimers and background to ensure that my comments are interpreted correctly.

Also, there are commenters (not just here, but in every forum) who never add anything of value or substance. It’s very nice to be able to spot them by identity and just skip over whatever they’re saying. This may be of less value to you if you enjoy reading troll comments, but it’s of great value to those of us who don’t.

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