The FBI wants to expand its ability to seize data from computers around the world. To do that, it needs federal judges to be given the right to grant search warrants for property outside their jurisdiction, which would give the bureau all the legal cover it needs to conduct these searches.
Google recently submitted a scathing comment about how these new powers would basically allow the United States government to hack any facility in the world. The company believes granting these expanded powers could lead to gross violations of the Fourth Amendment.
Snooping on foreign computers could also cause tensions with other countries. That’s what happened when Microsoft was forced to provide customer data to the government even though it resided on a server in Ireland. (I reported on this battle, and Microsoft’s allies in it, back in December 2014.)
Many of the arguments against allowing the government to seize data stored in other countries come back to a simple point: Congress should be consulted before such a decision, whether it concerns Microsoft or Google or any other company, is made and acted on.
Google says this proposal would raise “monumental and highly complex constitutional, legal and geopolitical concerns that should be left to Congress to decide.”
The American Civil Liberties Union, in a comment on the same proposal, made a similar argument in October 2014:
The government’s desire to augment the investigative tools available to it is understandable, but the best, and indeed the proper way to address the government’s asserted needs is for it to present its demand to Congress. Lawmakers can then craft a legislative solution to any gap in the government’s search powers.
All of these arguments note that expanding the FBI’s powers would result in Constitutional issues, conflicts with other countries, and the erosion of privacy. Yet the FBI continues its fight for these new powers, and it’s not clear any of these statements will make a difference.
[illustration by Brad Jonas]