The Federal Bureau of Investigation has been put in place to protect and serve the people, but its methods of doing so have since come under fire. Several international groups that advocate privacy have made a lawsuit against the government agency, under the pretense that it has violated thousands of individual's right to privacy. The FBI operation being called to question was an attempt to take down child pornography.
According to Computer World, a lawsuit has been filed against the FBI because it hacked into 8,700 computers in over 100 countries. And while there may have been a basis to do so, it all came from a single warrant. The method by which the agency got access to these is not only unprecedented but may also be illegal. Privacy International, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts are part of the lawsuit.
These three parties filed briefs in the case against the FBI’s hacking operation against a relatively popular child pornography site, Playpen. The publication noted that the website was accessible through Tor, a browser that allowed users to surf the web anonymously. In 2014, the FBI was able to take it over. The agency then used the same website to send malware to its users as a way to track them down.
What resulted was the prosecution of hundreds who were found visiting and using the illegal website. However, the process also hacked into computers of countries and locations outside of the United States jurisdiction. According to Privacy International, the warrant was not valid in these areas as the countries in question had not given the FBI their consent.
The three groups rhetorically asked the United States agency what it would have done had the same been done to its citizens. The group argued that if US citizens would have been hacked without its government's knowledge and green light, then the actions would not have been welcomed. Furthermore, the US Constitution itself protects citizens from unreasonable searches.
"Here, on the basis of a single warrant, the FBI searched 8,000 computers located all over the world," EFF attorney Mark Rumold said in a blog post. "If the FBI tried to get a single warrant to search 8,000 houses, such a request would unquestionably denied." He then went on to argue that even a more serious crime would not justify the negation of a basic constitutional principle.
Meanwhile, US attorneys have countered that the FBI followed the right protocol in hacking these computers. Their argument included how the FBI had obtained a proper warrant from a federal judge before going through with the project. Furthermore, papers stated how the initiation managed to identify hundreds of Playpen users who would have otherwise been hidden by Tor's anonymity.
Allowing these users to otherwise keep using Playpen under the safety of Tor "would be repugnant to justice," US attorneys argued in October. Whether or not the case will go to the privacy advocacy groups or the FBI is still unknown at this point. The case has been going on for a few months now and does not look like it will be settled soon.