The US Supreme Court [official website] approved a rule change [order, PDF] Thursday that would permit US judges to issue search warrants granting access to computers in any jurisdiction. Chief Justice John Roberts sent the changes to the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure to Congress, which has until December 1 to approve, reject or amend the rule. Under the current rules, judges are typically restricted to issuing search warrants within their jurisdiction. The rule change would allow judges to grant search warrants to law enforcement when the computer’s location is unknown. Civil liberty groups oppose the rule change [Reuters report], arguing that it will expand the FBI’s hacking authority, threatening Americans’ privacy. They also believe individuals will be subject to unreasonable searches and seizures. Officials are defending the rule, arguing it it necessary to adapt with changing technologies. They ensure that the rule change will not authorize any new authorities not already permitted under the current law.
The rule change seeking to broaden warrant jurisdiction has recently been overshadowed by other challenges the government has faced with digital information. The government’s authority to compel companies like Apple to aid them in accessing devices has been a large issue. In March the Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] dropped its case [JURIST report] seeking to compel Apple to assist unlocking the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone, saying the DOJ has accessed the data itself. The DOJ stated that they may have another method to unlock the shooter’s phone and therefore would not need Apple to comply with the order. At the end of February Apple filed [JURIST report] a brief in the US District Court for the Central District of California in opposition of the US government’s request for the company to unlock the iPhone of San Bernardino shooter, Syed Rizwan Farook. Counsel for Apple called the case “unprecedented” after the DOJ filed [JURIST report] a motion to compel Apple to unlock the encrypted iPhone. In response to the legal conflict, Apple asked [JURIST report] the US government to create a panel of experts to discuss issues of security versus privacy. These developments came after Apple refused the initial court order to assist the government in unlocking the iPhone from one of the San Bernardino shooter. The court order required [JURIST report] Apple to supply software to the FBI to disable a self-destruct feature that erases phone data after 10 failed attempts to enter the phone’s password.