Google has released a statement warning it is against the US Justice Department’s attempts to widen its authority to search and take hold of citizens’ digital data, warning that the amendment will in many cases end up authorising the government to conduct searches outside of the US.
In a submission to the committee in Washington that is considering the amendment, Google says that the changes could open the door to the US “government hacking of any facility” in the world, and that this would raise “monumental and highly complex constitutional, legal and geopolitical concerns that should be left to Congress to decide”.
The technology giant urged the committee to reject the proposed amendment and suggested it leave the expansion of the government’s investigative and technology tools to Congress, if indeed these were “necessary or appropriate”.
Google’s main concern is that FBI agents would be able to access servers no matter where they were located, enabling the US government to access a huge amount of private data.
It said that the concern was “not theoretical”.
In a recent case in Texas, the Department of Justice (DoJ) had suggested that the amendment did “not purport to authorise courts to issue warrants that authorise the search of electronic storage media located in a foreign country or countries”.
But Google said that this was a “weak assurance” and that in reality the amendment would purport to expand the current scope of the legislation, and enable it to conduct searches outside of the US.
Google’s submission formed part of a public consultation on the matter which is to be considered by the Advisory Committee on Criminal Rules, a governing body based in Washington.
Under Rule 41, federal agents who want to search a property have to apply to a judge for a warrant to do so. And the authorising judge has to be located in the same district as the property searched.
But DoJ claims that modern technology means that the existing rules no longer work and that FBI agents should be able to search property, including technology, outside of the judge’s district. This, it said, was crucial in investigations in which media or information has been “concealed through technological means”.
A submission to the committee from the National Association of Assistant US Attorneys said that suspects were increasingly using “sophisticated anonymizing technologies and proxy services designed to hide their true IP addresses”.
“This creates significant difficulties for law enforcement to identify the district in which the electronic information is located,” it said.