FBI needs a warrant to hack your computer, judge rules

A US federal judge has ruled that computer hacking legally counts as a search

Hacking someone's computer legally counts as a search when done by law enforcement, a Texas federal judge has ruled.

The decision comes as part of the ongoing court case relating to a dark web child porn site called Playpen. As part of the investigation, the FBI covertly implanted malware known as a Network Investigative Technique - or NIT - onto the computers of anyone who visited the site.

Jeffrey Torres of San Antonio, Texas, was one of the people caught in the FBI's cyber-sting. He filed a motion to suppress evidence seized from his home, based on the argument that the FBI's initial search of his computer was unlawful.

Judge David Alan Ezra ultimately denied the motion, ruling that the search was covered by the FBI's initial warrant. However, the ruling does clearly state that law enforcement hacking counts as a search under the fourth amendment of the US constitution.

Advertisement
Advertisement - Article continues below

"The NIT placed code on Mr. Torres' computer without his permission, causing it to transmit his IP address and other identifying data to the government," Ezra wrote in his ruling, stating that "this was unquestionably a 'search' for Fourth Amendment purposes".

This means that US authorities must possess a valid search warrant before hacking a suspect's computer - which marks a major win for privacy campaigners.

Legal opinion on this topic has been divided, however, and as part of a case relating to the same FBI operation, a Virginia District Judge ruled that the government needed no warrant in order to hack a defendant's computer.

The issue has presented a tricky problem for the courts, and according to Ezra, "has brought to light the need for Congressional clarification" regarding a judge's ability to issue warrants in cyber crime cases where the suspects may be using services like Tor to obscure their location.

Featured Resources

The IT Pro guide to Windows 10 migration

Everything you need to know for a successful transition

Download now

Managing security risk and compliance in a challenging landscape

How key technology partners grow with your organisation

Download now

Software-defined storage for dummies

Control storage costs, eliminate storage bottlenecks and solve storage management challenges

Download now

6 best practices for escaping ransomware

A complete guide to tackling ransomware attacks

Download now
Advertisement

Recommended

Visit/malware/33080/hackers-abuse-linkedin-dms-to-plant-malware
malware

Hackers abuse LinkedIn DMs to plant malware

25 Feb 2019
Visit/security/354156/google-confirms-android-cameras-can-be-hijacked-to-spy-on-you
Security

Google confirms Android cameras can be hijacked to spy on you

20 Nov 2019
Visit/antivirus/28144/best-antivirus
antivirus

Best antivirus for Windows 10

3 Sep 2019
Visit/security/malware/28083/the-five-best-free-malware-removal-tools
Security

Best free malware removal tools 2019

8 Mar 2019

Most Popular

Visit/cloud/microsoft-azure/354230/microsoft-not-amazon-is-going-to-win-the-cloud-wars
Microsoft Azure

Microsoft, not Amazon, is going to win the cloud wars

30 Nov 2019
Visit/hardware/354237/five-signs-that-its-time-to-retire-it-kit
Sponsored

Five signs that it’s time to retire IT kit

29 Nov 2019
Visit/business/business-strategy/354252/huawei-takes-the-us-trade-sanctions-into-its-own-hands
Business strategy

Huawei takes the US trade sanctions into its own hands

3 Dec 2019
Visit/mobile/mobile-phones/354273/pablo-escobars-brother-launches-budget-foldable-phone
Mobile Phones

Pablo Escobar's brother launches budget foldable phone

4 Dec 2019