A proposal that Washington bureaucrats be given nearly unfettered permission to hack into private computers, which WND reported earlier was being described as the ultimate “Big Brother” move, is drawing strong opposition from privacy activists and members of Congress.

“We’re in the midst right now of one of the biggest battles in the privacy world that we have faced,” said U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas, on a website mobilizing opposition. “If we keep down this path, we’re going to wake up in a few years in George Orwell’s 1984. This is why, as we fight for security, any intrusion on privacy needs to be narrowly tailored and aggressively overseen.”

WND reported last month when the alarm was raised by the Rutherford Institute, which offered its assistance to Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who is opposing the rule change.

At issue is a proposed change to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 41, which addresses search warrants.

If the change is adopted, Rutherford warned, it would “erode individual privacy” by granting vast new authority to investigators.

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Rutherford said the DOJ’s proposed changes “have been justified as a way to fight cybercrime and make it easier for law enforcement to track down cyber criminals who use tools such as Tor, botnets or malware to mask their true location.”

It noted the U.S. Supreme Court already has “rubberstamped” the idea, and Congress has until December to block or change it.

Now, officials representing a coalition of organizations have written to leaders in Congress warning that the change would allow any federal magistrate to authorize invasive computer hacking by law enforcement against just about anyone.

The letter to Sens. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Harry Reid, D-Nev.; and Reps. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said the new strategy would “invite law enforcement to seek warrants authorizing them to hack thousands of computers at once – which it is hard to imagine would not be in direct violation of the Fourth Amendment.”

The new protest is led by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Tor Project and several dozen others.

They have set up the No Global Warrants site to express their concerns.

EFF’s Cindy Cohn wrote: “Any expansion of law enforcement’s ability to remotely attack computers should be thoroughly considered by Congress, not passed off as a minor procedural adjustment. Yet Rule 41 would grossly expand the power of law enforcement to seek orders to attack and exploit computers around the country and around the world.”

Added Wyden, “If Congress doesn’t stop these changes, a single judge will be able to grant a warrant to hack a million (or more) computers and other devices.”

There also is an online petition to help people to voice their opinions.

“The government is attempting to use a process designed for procedural changes to expand its investigatory powers,” said Rainey Reitman of EFF. “Make no mistake: these changes to Rule 41 will result in a dramatic increase in government hacking. The government is trying to avoid scrutiny and sneak these new powers past the public and Congress through an obscure administrative process.”

Rule 41 now limits federal magistrate judges “to issue warrants to conduct searches in the judicial district where the magistrate is located.”

The change would expand that to include “wherever in the world they are located.”

Kate Krauss of the Tor Project said: “Tor users worldwide could be affected by these new rules. Tor is used by journalists, members of Congress, diplomats, and human rights activists who urgently need its protection to safeguard their privacy and security – but these rules will give the Justice Department new authority to snoop into their computers.”

“Police State USA: How Orwell’s Nightmare Is Becoming Our Reality” chronicles how America has arrived at the point of being a de facto police state, and what led to an out-of-control government that increasingly ignores the Constitution. Order today!

John Whitehead of the Rutherford Institute said: “Of course, it’s a devil’s bargain – much like the Patriot Act was – that attempts to sell us on the idea that safety, security and material comforts are preferable to freedom. The problem with these devil’s bargains, however, is that there is always a catch, always a price to pay for whatever it is we valued so highly as to barter away our most precious possessions. In the end, as we saw with the Patriot Act, such bargains always turn sour.”

Significantly, the government could hack into computers without ever letting the owner know.

Explained the Rutherford Institute: “These amendments would greatly expand federal investigators’ ability to engage in remote surveillance, which involves the secret installation of data extraction software on a computer. Once installed, the software allows government agents to remotely search a computer’s hard drive and other data storage, transmit data back to the agents, and to even remotely activate and control attached cameras and microphones.”

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