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The FBI got a license to hack more fiercely than ever

Published Dec 1st, 2016 6:50AM EST

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Trump isn’t even acting President yet, and the FBI is already expanding its hacking powers. Before you start worrying about your privacy or over encryption policies, you should know that this move was largely in the works. The Senate failed on Wednesday to block or delay rule changes that would expand the FBI’s hacking powers. That means that starting on Thursday, the FBI will have the authority to remotely access any computer, in the US, and even overseas.

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Per Reuters, the FBI will still need search warrants from US judges to act, so there will be some oversight. But the FBI will now be able to ask for an order from a judge in case a suspect in an investigation is using anonymizing technology to conceal the location of a computer. That’s a VPN, in case it sounds familiar. But encryption can also be used to anonymize the way one uses a computer, whether it’s an actual PC or a mobile device.

Judges will be able to issue search warrants within the jurisdiction of their court, which is limited to a few counties. Even so, the FBI will have the power to pretty much investigate any target it deems necessary.

This is ”one of the biggest mistakes in surveillance policy in years,” according to Democratic Senator Ron Wyden who tried to stop or delay the changes three times. The new rules would give the government “unprecedented authority to hack into Americans’ personal phones, computers, and other devices,” Wyden said.

The senator is especially worried about the new spying rules given the current political context. Wyden pointed out that Trump “”openly said he wants the power to hack his political opponents the same way Russia does.”

On the other hand, the FBI’s advanced hacking powers might come in handy, and the US Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell believes the benefits of the new changes outweighed any potential for “unintended harm.”

“The possibility of such harm must be balanced against the very real and ongoing harms perpetrated by criminals – such as hackers, who continue to harm the security and invade the privacy of Americans through an ongoing botnet, or pedophiles who openly and brazenly discuss their plans to sexually assault children,” Caldwell wrote.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.