Hacking America: A Bibliography

Blog Post
June 29, 2016

In April, the Supreme Court approved new amendments to the federal criminal code that would change – if Congress takes no action to modify the new rules – the way law enforcement could legally collect information from people’s computers.  The changes, which affected the section of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure known as Rule 41, would mean that the FBI would only need one search warrant to legally hack multiple computers anywhere in the U.S. – even if those computers belonged to the victims, not the perpetrators, of the crime.  To provide more background on the issues, we’ve put together a bibliography of relevant articles that cover the most recent developments in government hacking since the Supreme Court submitted the amendments to Rule 41.

In response to the Supreme Court, Senators Ron Wyden, D-Ore. and Rand Paul, R-Ky. introduced the Stopping Mass Hacking Act to block the proposed amendments. On Thursday, OTI will host “Hacking America,” a discussion on how the proposed changes to Rule 41 could expand government hacking and what that means for criminal investigations, privacy, due process, and cybersecurity (you can RSVP here).  

U.S. law enforcement is very secretive about its use of software and hardware vulnerabilities to investigate criminal cases.  However, due to the proposed Rule 41 amendments and the media coverage of trials related to the child pornography website Playpen, the controversy about government hacking has intensified in recent months.  In the investigation of Playpen, the FBI was able to hack 1,300 IP addresses in multiple states with one warrant obtained in the Eastern District of Virginia.  Judges in Oklahoma, Massachusetts, and Washington state have excluded evidence gathered by this warrant on the theory that the evidence may not have been collected properly.  The bibliography includes articles covering Playpen as well as other cases of the U.S. government hacking its citizens.  It also outlines the events around the Rule 41 changes, including the response of more than 45 organizations which signed a letter to Congress calling for a stop to the amendments.

We know that law enforcement has been exploiting vulnerabilities in software and hardware for over a decade.  The legal authority and oversight of government hacking through Rule 41 has been questioned before, but this is the first time that the issue has reached the Supreme Court and Congress.  If Congress chooses not to act on the proposed amendments, the amendments to Rule 41 would automatically go into effect on December 1, 2016.

You can brush up on the most recent events in this bibliography and RSVP for Thursday’s “Hacking America” on the event page.