The 4th Amendment to the US Constitution states: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” That right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures is more often observed in the breach nowadays, as police have been given an extraordinary amount of latitude to search homes, cars, and people. But one of the latest developments on that front might really knock your socks off.
It shouldn’t come as any surprise that in a world that is increasingly electronic and digitized, the use of electronic devices is bringing up new questions about what security means when it comes to our computers, phones, and other electronic devices. With hackers roaming all around the internet looking to take advantage of those without the necessary savviness, our electronic devices can harm us as much as they can help us.
Because of that threat, the FBI has recently been granted by the courts an open-ended ability to access private computers in the United States without consent in order to remove malicious software. Its actions are supposedly related to the ongoing hack of Microsoft Exchange servers, but the Bureau’s newfound authority is worrying.
Who is to say that the Bureau, once it is inside a computer, won’t make and keep an image of the target computer’s hard drive(s)? What if agents happen across something that piques their interest and start fishing around? What happens if agents break a computer system due to their actions? The list of potential consequences from such broad authority could probably go on and on, and it is all but inevitable that some such consequences will occur. Who will be held responsible?
It’s very worrying that the FBI has essentially been given carte blanche to access any computer system in the US that it wants to. Under the guise of fighting criminals, everything we have on our computers is now potentially available for the Bureau to snoop around in. If the threat of hackers wasn’t enough to get you to practice proper online security, the threat of government snooping certainly should be.