Today, the FBI becomes the enemy of every computer user and every IT security professional worldwide

Posted on Dec 1, 2016 by Rick Falkvinge
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Today December 1, the United States FBI is granted new powers to intrude into any computer anywhere on the globe, instantly changing the FBI from a random law enforcement agency to a global adversary. Law enforcement agencies are expected to be met with open arms and treated as good guys. There’s not going to be any good guy treatment of the FBI here, and for good reason.

The U.S. FBI has been sort of a random law enforcement agency somewhere on the planet doing physical law enforcement work, kind of like the Bundespolizei in Germany would appear to an American, or the way the Policía Federal Argentina would appear to a European. Today, the FBI becomes a global adversary and enemy to every security-conscious computer user and to every IT security professional, similar to how the mass surveillance agencies are treated. The FBI has requested, and been granted, the lawful power (in the US) to intrude into any computer in the entire world. In 95% of the world, this makes the FBI no different from a Russian or Chinese criminal intruder, and it will be treated in the same way by people defending their systems; defending their homes.

This has happened under the boring legislative name of “changes to Rule 41”, and is (as always!) presented as nothing of particular interest. This is an old trick: when you want sweeping broad new powers without accountability, don’t call it “sweeping broad new power without accountability”, but cloud it in a name so boring it will interest absolutely nobody. (This lawmaker trick was skillfully observed by John Oliver, who said we shouldn’t call the peer-to-peerness of the Internet a boring term like “net neutrality”, but the more to-the-point “preventing cable company fuckery”.)

These “changes to Rule 41” put a lot of people in the FBI’s crosshairs. As usual, most people think new powers for law enforcement can only target criminals – as in actual, violent criminals. This would be the reasonable course of action, but not so in this case, not so at all. Techdirt points out that anybody using encryption, or anybody trying to hide their identity or location, can be presumed to be engaged in crime (having a “guilty mind”, or mens rea in Legalese Latin) and therefore be a valid target.

This assertion is, of course, outrageous and preposterous.

Under this assertion, sources to reporters do not have a right to hide their identity: the FBI just invalidated most principles behind freedoms of the press. The EFF points out numerous other reasons why we want to protect people hiding their identity – such as domestic abuse victims. Further, everybody has a right to hide their location for any reason or no reason at any time (with a few exceptions like felons serving sentences with electronic shackles). In short, seeing this activity as suspicious is blatantly outrageous.

Actually, let’s take that observation one step further: carrying an electronic ankle shackle is considered equivalent to serving a prison sentence. So when the FBI says out straight that nobody has a right to hide their location, what they’re saying is that they want to reduce everybody’s freedom to the equivalent of being in prison. That’s a remarkable statement no matter how you twist it.

These sweeping new powers for the US FBI have not been without opposition. There were some last-minute efforts to stop it, but in the end, the new powers took effect and will now need a constitutional challenge.

A lot of this comes down to law enforcement’s distorted self-image: since they have the lawful power to enter a residence on its own jurisdiction (a power backed on location by a half-dozen locked and loaded assault rifles with safeties off), they have taken for granted that they can and should enter anywhere they see themselves having a need to enter. In short, law enforcement is used to getting some sort of preferential treatment when breaking and entering using force. But when the FBI tries to break into my firewall in Switzerland, there’s no jurisdiction, and there’s no guns: there’s going to be just me shooting their attempts down with complete prejudice, no remorse, and 100% justification. They’re going to be treated no differently than any other criminal trying to break into my home.

If the FBI wants the ability to behave like a global adversary, it will be globally treated as an adversary.

The security industry has already announced its intent to this effect, to refusing to give law enforcement any kind of preferential treatment: Mikko Hypponen of F-Secure was crystal clear a decade ago when this was discussed last time, saying “Malware detectors will make no difference between adversaries based on whether they consider themselves lawful”, or something to that effect. An intruder is an intruder, plain and simple.

The FBI may have a very high horse to step down from. Just because it has been immediately accepted into houses when it’s also pointing automatic rifles at the residents, that doesn’t mean it’s particularly welcome. When it doesn’t carry guns and tries to intrude into computers, it will be ejected, rejected, and kicked out with force, lawful intrusion into a computer or not notwithstanding: an intruder is an intruder. And the FBI is about to become aware of that.

And as a final note, once the FBI breaks in to your computer at home, don’t expect them to be able to protect their intrusion. The United States has proven itself utterly incapable of protecting its own dirtiest laundry, so it can’t and won’t protect the data it has stolen when breaking into your home.

Privacy remains your own responsibility.

About Rick Falkvinge

Rick is Head of Privacy at Private Internet Access. He is also the founder of the first Pirate Party and is a political evangelist, traveling around Europe and the world to talk and write about ideas of a sensible information policy. Additionally, he has a tech entrepreneur background and loves good whisky and fast motorcycles.

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    1. Telephone Jack

      We can’t. Sounds like tyranny to me.

      3 years ago
      1. An on

        Not to forget mentioning it makes you a harder target for actuall criminals (hackers) as well. These kind of power hungry actions arent too unexpected from a self admiring country like the Usa though… They think they own the entire world.

        3 years ago
      2. gary spencer

        Yes you do have something to hide. They can make stuff up, stick it on you, then you have to spend thousands to prove them wrong. Ask me how I know this.

        3 years ago
  1. Bohdan RA

    even in Russia ???

    3 years ago
  2. suezz

    fbi can fsck off.

    lawyer is ready – I don’t care what law they pass. They intrude on me I will sue and I will retire with money from the lawsuit.

    their fusion centers produced a report saying there were 0 signs of domestic terrorism.
    these jokers just stolen our money and have to justify their job just like homeland security.

    logs are ready bring it on – I need to retire

    3 years ago
  3. George Spelvin

    I’m personally hoping that Anonymous is already on this and ready to wipe every computer those FBI bastards own. I don’t care how mundane the stuff on my PC is…it’s none of their goddamn business.

    3 years ago
    1. L O

      Anonymous is a joke… Nothing they do ever does irreparable damage, or has lasting effects…

      3 years ago
    2. MacUndecided

      Anonymous is a CIA fronted organization. They exist for 2 reasons. Information warfare for the CIA and a second tier of millennial losers who think that bringing down the Church of Scientology is the most important human endeavor of the modern age.

      3 years ago
      1. USAMNESIA

        MAC…this is unfortunately quite likely. We live in a time of universal deceit.

        3 years ago
  4. Manuela Langer

    The FBI has no jurisdiction in Germany. I don’t care what law they passed in the U.S. – it simply is not applicable in other countries.
    Plus: Using encryption and VPN does not make one a criminal. As an accountat, I handle sensitive client data all day, every day. I am in fact bound by law to use encryption and VPN to protect this data. So yeah, any law agency from another country can go fuck themselves. They have no right to break into my computers or listen in to my communications.

    3 years ago
    1. Voice of Reason

      Although the FBI is supposed to be limited to ‘domestic’ law enforcement, the fact is it has jurisdiction over all U.S. citizens, ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD, and all people within the borders of the U.S. Hence, we often find the FBI operating beyond U.S. borders because a U.S. citizen has broken a U.S. law in a foreign country, or a foreigner has broken a U.S. law in the U.S., and has tried to flee to his/her home country to avoid prosecution. So, your statement is only partially correct. If you are a U.S. citizen, situs in Germany and violating U.S. laws, the FBI will get you. If you are a German citizen, situs in Germany and using your computer to violate U.S. laws, the FBI will get you. However, if you are a German citizen, situs in Germany, breaking German laws, the FBI doesn’t really give a rip, unless, of course, it finds out and decides to report you to German law enforcement, or Interpol.

      3 years ago
      1. Manuela Langer

        Again: The FBI has no jurisdiction in Germany. It is hubris of the first degree to claim “Y’all have to follow OUR laws or OUR police will get you!”

        3 years ago
        1. hunt bear

          Do you not understand that this goes deeper than just regular laws

          2 years ago
          1. Manuela Langer

            Do you not understand the term “hubris”?

            2 years ago
          2. hunt bear

            Do you not understand that our government does not give a fuck about other governments or their laws why do you think most of the world hates America

            2 years ago
  5. QEternity

    So the FBI is now = to Russian hackers. Marvelous.

    3 years ago
    1. GenEarly

      “Those who surrender freedom for security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one.” Benjamin Franklin

      To make matters worse the FIB has had contact and surveillance at some point on almost all (or every ?) mooslem terrorist that has attacked us here in the USSA.
      The FIB has covered up Obamy-Hilarity’s crimes from Fast&Furious gun running to the Clinton-Podesta pedophilia cartel.
      From the “Way Back Machine” the FIB burned women and children alive in Waco, so what’s new?

      3 years ago
  6. Utterly Deplorable

    So I’m looking at the URL of this site: https – which is secured. That makes it a valid target as far as the feebees are concerned. Makes me a target just for looking at it. Fine. Install Enigma on Thunderbird and just fuck with ’em.

    3 years ago
  7. Paul X

    Wiser people assume the FBI et. al. have been doing this for years. This is just government acting normally. Maybe getting a bit more blatant about it.

    “People do not expect to find chastity in a whorehouse. Why, then, do they expect to find honesty and humanity in government, a congeries of institutions whose modus operandi consists of lying, cheating, stealing, and if need be, murdering those who resist?”
    — H.L. Mencken

    3 years ago
  8. hunt bear

    Fuk feds fbi eat my ass

    2 years ago
  9. nortrek

    Rick- loved your shit you laid down. I’m a TI- which is why I came to PIA. I’m a fiction writer and the bastards read the manuscript back to me- not FBI but civilian pigs that work for law enforcement that work for Wal-Mart cards or smokes n gas money. A VPN won’t stop ’em- they even told me I’m wasting my money. We are escalating this police state bullshit. We are no longer the home of the brave or free. We survive in a world of paranoia-and for baby boomers- it impacts us the worse

    2 years ago
  10. Tom

    The right to GOD given personal LIBERTY is GONE! The progressive elite have won. Anyone not of their ilk will be forced to prove their innocence. We, those who pursue LIBERTY are no longer innocent till proven guilty. Note, if you think going to the store down the street or going to another country or even pursing your choice of jobs, lovers or where to live means your FREE, you DO NOT understand the principle of ones GOD given innate RIGHT to PERSONAL LIBERTY.

    Welcome to the new serfdom people. Read Hayek.

    2 years ago
  11. Luke Higdon

    This reminds me of my younger days as a bartender driving home after work and constantly getting pulled over and told something like “You were swerving.” Time and time again I would pass the breathalyzer test because I wasn’t drinking. Then while pulled over I was scrutinized and busted for any little thing they could find like having tinted windows or something. I am a law abiding citizen but I still own guns and have the right to carry them and use a VPN and sometimes Tor depending on my internet speed. Just because I do doesn’t mean I am breaking the law! It means if somebody breaks the law, as in attacks me one way or another, they are going to regret it.

    2 years ago
  12. Robbie Stokes

    I certainly hope you’re right. I currently live in the U.S. This screwy administration and incapable, incompetent president are doing whatever they want now. He’s a train wreck and an embarrassment to our country. But he fired our very capable, intelligent F.B.I. director and replaced him with someone nobody’s ever heard of. He’s a nut job. Secrecy and laws are getting loose. It’s scary.

    2 years ago
  13. Dave

    Well this and syrup for European country private citizen privacy act’s ie Norway, Sweden, Germany,

    2 years ago