by Ayesha Alam (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 44, No. 1, Jumada' al-Ula', 1436)
Of all institutions, Google has raised the alarm over US plans to hack into any computer or mobile device anywhere in the world. America is not only acting as Big Brother but wants the world to know that it is Big Brother!
When Google begins to sound the alarm for the privacy of citizen data, you know that there is trouble. On February 18, 2015, Google made a posting on its public policy blog that described the internet giant’s opposition to changes in the US legal framework that will legalize the US government’s ability to “hack any institution on earth.” Given Google’s own close ties with the regime in Washington and multinational corporations, this reprimand signals the speed with which US is transforming into a global Big Brother, to cite George Orwell’s nightmarish novel, 1984.
The issue deals with proposed changes to the US federal criminal procedure that will allow judges to grant the FBI warrants for hacking and surveillance into institutions that lie beyond their jurisdiction, including foreign governments. According to the Federal rule of Criminal Procedure 41, US judges are not able to sign warrants to allow government agencies to search property outside of their own jurisdiction. However, the FBI is arguing that in the web age, issues of jurisdiction do not apply to “property” such as computers. With these changes, theoretically a judge in Tennessee, for instance, can sign a warrant that will allow the FBI to hack into governmental and commercial institutions in Russia, China, Iran, Brazil, or other country, institution or organization anywhere in the world.
Google’s blog post, written by company lawyer Richard Salgado, is evocative on the subject, “First, in setting aside the traditional limits under Rule 41, the proposed amendment would likely end up being used by US authorities to directly search computers and devices around the world. Even if the intent of the proposed change is to permit US authorities to obtain a warrant to directly access and retrieve data only from computers and devices within the US, there is nothing in the proposed change to Rule 41 that would prevent access to computers and devices worldwide.”
“Second, the proposed change threatens to undermine the privacy rights and computer security of internet users. For example, the change would excuse territorial limits on the use of warrants to conduct “remote access” searches where the physical location of the media is “concealed through technological means.” The proposed change does not define what a “remote search” is or under what circumstances and conditions a remote search can be undertaken; it merely assumes such searches, whatever they may be, are constitutional and otherwise legal.”
Google’s blog highlighted the FBI’s desire to “remotely” search computers that have concealed their location, either through encryption or by obscuring their IP addresses using anonymity services. Those government searches, Google says, “may take place anywhere in the world. This concern is not theoretical. …[T]he nature of today’s technology is such that warrants issued under the proposed amendment will in many cases end up authorizing the government to conduct searches outside the United States.”
The scope of institutions affected by this new law is truly vast: it will enable the US to spy on almost all transactions on the web, including those of banks, commercial organizations, governmental agencies, universities and more. For instance, banks and commercial organizations commonly use Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) in order to ensure that consumer transactions are secure. The law will allow US security agencies to hack almost all VPNs anywhere in the world, making consumer privacy a thing of fiction. In addition, given the fact that almost all politicians affiliated with the US national security industry milk their “insider” knowledge to gain private contracts, help their own businesses, and enrich themselves, gaining access to the worldwide flow of information on the web will enable them to indulge in graft and corruption to an unprecedented degree.
The issue of international law is also a sticky one. This aggressive push to monitor all data, everywhere, bypasses the treaties by which the US recognizes other countries as sovereign states with authority over their subjects. The Google blog points this out, reminding the Advisory Committee that, “…the jurisdiction of law enforcement agents does not extend beyond a nation’s borders.” In short, the US national security complex is trying to invoke the terrorist boogeyman in order to control the world and preempt any challenges to its delusions of grandeur.
The US Justice Department is attempting to cover itself and justify this new measure. In a comment addressed to the Advisory Committee on Criminal Rules, which is responsible for making the final decision on this matter, Eric Holder’s department assured that the government would uphold citizen privacy and that such “jurisdiction-free” warrants would only be requested where there is “probable cause to search for or seize evidence, fruits, or instrumentalities of crime.” The loose definition of “probable cause” has given rise to raids, draconian surveillance, show trials, and other travesties of justice.
The American Civil Liberties Union has also addressed the issue, linking the latest request to the post-9/11 breakdown of US civil liberties and constitutional limits, “The government is seeking a troubling expansion of its power to surreptitiously hack into computers, including using malware. Although this proposal is cloaked in the garb of a minor procedural update, in reality it would be a major and substantive change that would be better addressed by Congress.” While the ACLU’s diagnosis of the issue is accurate, its recommendation must be treated with skepticism. Whether or not the US Congress can function as an effective decision-maker on the topic can be gleaned from its members’ subservience to special interest lobbies, the foremost of them being military contractors and pro-Zionist groups.
The campaign to legalize worldwide US hacking has been building for quite some time. On December 19, 2014, the FBI officially blamed North Korea for hacking Sony Pictures Entertainment for releasing a movie that depicted North Korea’s dictator Kim Jong-Un in a derogatory light. The media sealed the case in the US public, mocking North Korea’s hacking at Hollywood award shows like The Golden Globes. However, quite a few members of the hacker community have debunked the case, pointing to holes in the FBI’s case. Also, back in November 2013, the FBI warned that the international hacker group known as Anonymous had broken into US governmental computers and stolen information (Anonymous made international headlines after hacking Israeli websites in an act of resistance to Israel’s brutal attacks on Gaza). In addition, back in September 2014, the US Senate accused China of hacking into the computers of US military contractors.
The question is, how does the US justify the leap from arguing for better defenses against hackers to claiming a legal right to hack into any computer on the face of the Earth? It illustrates that after 9/11, the US’ ambitions for absolute power have become an obsession from which there is perhaps no awakening.