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FBI Seeks License To Hack Bot-Infected PCs

Justice Department seeks search warrant changes to battle online crime syndicates, but critics cite impact on innocent bystanders and potential for abuse.

are commanded to execute a warrant, in all but the most exceptional circumstances they're required to leave a notice that they've conducted a search, along with an inventory of seized items. People can then go to court to contest the search and seizure.

The proposed changes, however, would allow law enforcement agencies to instead email these notifications, or post them online or on a PC. But in this era of ransomware pretending to levy FBI fines and rampant spam and phishing attacks -- all of which fool enough consumers to keep earning attackers money -- it's not clear how consumers would believe a legitimate emailed FBI notice about their personal data having been seized, even if they saw it in the first place.

"These changes anticipate that in many more cases, that will never happen," said Rasch. "What will actually happen is the police will execute the search warrant, seize the evidence, and the true owner of that evidence will never know because [the law enforcement agency] can email a copy of the warrant or post it somewhere on the computer."

A bigger question is whether the FBI really needs the powers it's asking for -- and how might these powers be used by law enforcement personnel who aren't acting in good faith? "Look at how you really investigate botnet," said Rasch. "It's not like you don't know where it is." IP addresses of infected machines can be subpoenaed, for example, and thus the physical location of victims identified. Then the FBI could serve related search warrants not because the victims are suspects, but rather to gather information during the course of an investigation.

Perhaps FBI officials worry about subpoenaing a rogue service provider, who then tips off the subject of the bureau's investigation. But if that's the FBI's real concern, then it should say so, said Rasch, rather than arguing for broad rights, which could be used -- and potentially abused -- during the course of future investigations. "Make the solution narrowly tailored to the problem," he said.

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