A judge denied the FBI’s request for a warrant to hack into a suspect’s computer, and activate their webcam without them knowing, according to the Daily Caller. This is something that online hackers already do, illegally, to unsuspecting targets. Under these conditions the FBI would also have access to all files on the computer, as well as the capability to set up “back doors” so that they could go back later to collect more information, without another warrant. This is also part of the reason why the judge denied their request, because he felt that judges have not been kept in the loop adequately when dealing with FBI surveillance. The Fourth amendment says that when a warrant is issued it must particularly describe the place to be searched, and the things to be searched or seized. This is why at least one judge felt that the webcam monitoring with capabilities to return to that suspects computer at any time to continue surveillance went beyond the scope of what a search warrant allows the FBI to do.
The judge also did not think that the bureau had provided him with enough information. Smith said he was not sure whether he even had the authority to permit a search that could occur outside of his district. All the FBI had was an email address.
The ACLU has concerns that the FBI will just get one warrant, and run with it for as long as they need to, which is why they believe that judges need to be kept in the loop in order to have oversight, and make sure the FBI is not abusing their powers while investigating crimes.
“If the FBI is going to pretend to be a U.S. company, the judge should be told; if the FBI is going to release a virus so it can spread from one computer to the next, the judge should be told because of the potential that it could spread to the computers of innocent people,” he said.
“If they’re going to leave a backdoor so that they can get access a week or a month or a year later, the judge should be told and should have to authorize that,” he said.
Of course the entire point of having to get a warrant is to have judicial oversight, so that law enforcement cannot get ahead of themselves and violate people’s rights in the name of criminal justice. The scary thing is that if the FBI is requesting a warrant for this type of hacking, chances are some government agency has already done it; perhaps the ones who operate a bit more below the radar like the NSA and CIA. Since the NSA has already engaged in tactics of collecting and storing data on innocent civilians in a form that could be searched like google, and according to whistleblower Bill Binney are already reading our emails, I would be surprised if this tactic of hacking into a webcam had not been used by the NSA already. If they have had in the past no concern for our civil liberties and Constitutional rights, there is no reason to think that they would seek a warrant in any given circumstance. The more judicial oversight of these types of surveillance practices the better.