Judge offers primer on search warrant requirements; slaps FBI

A search warrant is, in effect, a document that is supposed to balance the needs of law enforcement and the individual. The government wants something — whether drugs, documents, evidence of foul play or myriad other things it states are illegal or promote illegality — and the individual wants the comfort of knowing that he or she will not be illegally harassed or abused by the actions requested under the warrant.

A recent warrant request by the FBI in a case of suspected bank fraud sufficiently troubled a federal magistrate to the point where he ensured that his order denying the request was made public in a 13-page document excoriating the government.

Judge Stephen Smith’s warrant denial issued in a case involving a suspect’s alleged attempt to make an illegal wire transfer of funds to an overseas account. The FBI wanted to conduct cyber surveillance on the individual through tapping into his computer.

The problem: The government had no idea where the person was, didn’t know which computer it might ultimately be tapping into and couldn’t state whether other persons — third parties having no connection to the case whatever — might also be spied on in the process.

Essentially, noted the judge, the government simply wanted carte blanche to find the so-called “Target Computer” through its IP address and thereafter extract information from it. The government’s warrant stated that the technology available to investigators would additionally allow for the activating of the computer’s web camera.

The judge shot down the request, finding that it lacked specificity and could harm other parties, given the Target Computer might turn out to be publicly shared.

Privacy rights groups lauded the judge’s action, with one advocate stating that, “As a general rule, we don’t think law enforcement should be in the hacking business.”

Source: Source: Ars Technica, “FBI denied permission to spyh on hacker through his webcam,” Cyrus Farivar, April 24, 2013