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US Law Enforcement To Monitor VPN and Tor Users

Monday, October 24th, 2016

In order to secure their online privacy and anonymity, a lot of online users rely on technologies like Tor and VPNs. However, a recent proposal to amend Rule 41 of Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure in United States could grant sweeping search powers to law enforcement officials and make users of VPNs and Tor focus of unwanted scrutiny and harassment. Alarmed by the proposal, representatives from Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) have voiced their opposition to the government and have even asked other privacy advocates to oppose the proposed amendment.

As per the information provided by EFF on its website, the proposed amendment would give sweeping powers to the law enforcement officials. If the amendment is cleared by the Court, it would enable the law enforcement officials to conduct surveillance and even hack the electronic devices of US citizens. Furthermore, the officials would have the powers to confiscate devices that are used to conceal or encrypt traffic.

To compound the matters, the language used in the amendment itself is highly confusing and misleading. The amendment simply says that a judge could issue a warrant to search, access, copy or seize data where the information or media is being concealed through technology or lies on a computer which has been damaged without authorization. While the proposed amendment does not explicitly list down the technologies that would be covered by it, any technology that aids in data encryption or concealing, including Tor, VPNs or any other type of encryption; would be the prime target of it.

If the amendment is cleared by the Court, millions of people who use VPNs simply to change their locations or to protect their online privacy would suddenly become criminals in the eyes of the law. The law would also stop people from shielding their privacy or location even in cases where it is absolutely necessary (such as whistle blowers or victims of violence/abuse seeking legal opinion or journalists communicating with their sources without leaking their identity or whereabouts).

EFF has also voiced concern regarding the powers that the proposed amendment would grant to the government officials. By infiltrating and hacking computers remotely, the law enforcement would breach the privacy rights of the US citizens without being held accountable. There is also a danger that the technology used by the government could land in the hands of the hackers since a lot of users already have malwares and spywares on their computers and Smartphones. This could not only cause embarrassment to the government but would also give hackers access to cutting-edge technologies used by the government in surveillance.

The proposed amendment should also be viewed with caution by other governments and netizens from around the world. Since the law gives powers to the judges to issue warrants against anyone (even overseas users) who is using location masking technology, even people from outside United States could see their devices infiltrated by US government officials. Overall, the law would significantly expand the surveillance capabilities of the US government and is detrimental to anyone who wishes to protect his privacy and anonymity online.

October 24, 2016

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