‘Computers accessing the internet can — and eventually will — be hacked,’ says Judge Henry Coke Morgan, Jr.
The FBI did not need a warrant to hack a US citizen’s computer, according to a ruling handed down on Tuesday by Senior US District Court Judge Henry Coke Morgan, Jr. If the decision is upheld, it may have ripple effects that essentially allow government agencies to remotely search and seize information from any computer in the US without a warrant, probable cause or suspicion, the EFF argues.
The ruling relates to a worldwide FBI sting dubbed Operation Pacifier that targeted child pornography sites on anonymity networks such as Tor. The FBI deployed hacking tools across computers in the US, Chile, Denmark and Greece, and caught 1,500 pedophiles on the Dark Web. As part of Operation Pacifier, authorities briefly seized and continued running a server that hosted the child pornography site Playpen, meanwhile deploying a hacking tool known internally as a network investigative technique. The NIT collected roughly 1,500 IP addresses of visitors to the site.
Judge Morgan, Jr. wrote on Tuesday that the FBI’s actions did not violate the Fourth Amendment, which protects US citizens from unreasonable search and seizure. “The Court finds that no Fourth Amendment violation occurred here because the government did not need a warrant to capture Defendant’s IP address” and other information from the suspect’s computer, he wrote.
“Generally, one has no reasonable expectation of privacy in an IP address when using the internet,” Morgan, Jr. said. “Even an internet user who employs the Tor network in an attempt to mask his or her IP address lacks a reasonable expectation of privacy in his or her IP address.”
Basically, the judge argued, computers are hacked every day and no one should expect privacy while operating online.
“The rise of computer hacking via the internet has changed the public’s reasonable expectations of privacy,” he wrote. “Now, it seems unreasonable to think that a computer connected to the web is immune from invasion. Indeed, the opposite holds true: In today’s digital world, it appears to be a virtual certainty that computers accessing the internet can — and eventually will — be hacked.”