Access Now welcomes House bill to block changes to Rule 41

Washington D.C. — Access Now today welcomes H.R. 5321, Stopping Mass Hacking Act (SMH Act). The SMH Act is a House companion to S. 2952. The bipartisan, bicameral bill will block implementation of changes to Rule 41 of the U.S. Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure that would expand the FBI’s hacking operations. The changes to Rule 41 enable the FBI to hack into computers regardless of where they are located and to hack into potentially millions of computers belonging to the victims of “botnet” operations. SMH is “internet slang” which means “Shaking My Head,” implying disappointment and disbelief.

“We applaud Congressmen Ted Poe and John Conyers for taking a leadership role on this technical and complicated issue. With bills in both the House and the Senate, we now focus on educating members of Congress and their staff about the overbroad changes to Rule 41. The first step will be to push for hearings in the House and Senate Judiciary Committees,” said Nathan White, Senior Legislative Manager at Access Now.

The Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure are procedural rules that govern the implementation of the law. Updates to the rules are not supposed to have substantive impact, or either grant or restrict rights. However, the changes to Rule 41 would explicitly bless government hacking in the United States, an activity that Congress has never authorized. Additionally, the rule changes grant magistrate judges the authority to issue warrants within an investigation under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, allowing the FBI to secretly search the computers of innocent individuals who have, without their knowledge or consent, been potentially infected by a botnet. This would allow one warrant to potentially impact millions of people.

“This is an example of what happens when policy is created by bureaucratic committees. In attempting to make things easier for the FBI, the Department of Justice is creating entirely new problems. One warrant should never authorize the search of millions of people. Congress needs to step in and do their job. We need public debate and meaningful safeguards,” said Amie Stepanovich, U.S. Policy Manager at Access Now.

The SMH Act is sponsored by Representatives Ted Poe (R-TX), John Conyers (D-MI), Blake Farenthold (R-TX), and Zoe Lofgren (D-CA). In the Senate, the SMH Act is sponsored by Senators Ron Wyden, (D-OR), Rand Paul (R-KY), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI,) Steve Daines (R-MT), and Jon Tester (D-MT).