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Federal judge: FBI warrant to spy overly broad, unspecific

"It's sexy, but it's terrifying."

That's what one technology expert working with the ACLU says about the government's foray into the world of hacking when federal agents say they are doing so to probe and deter Internet crimes such as bank fraud and identity theft.

 Based on his recent ruling in a case involving a search warrant request from the FBI, a federal magistrate clearly agrees. Judge Stephen Smith recently denied the agency's request for a 30-day warrant to access a suspect's computer for evidence of an illegal money transfer to a foreign bank.

What has most surprised a number of people with close interest in the area is the unusual action taken by the judge to make his order public.

What most centrally emerges from the order is the judge's discontent with virtually every aspect of the request.

For starters, Judge Smith noted from the warrant request that the government actually has no idea of the suspect's whereabouts, but would still be able to potentially locate his computer through its IP address. The judge stated that the warrant fell short of a requirement to be contained by a stated territorial limit.

Second, and immediately fatal, was the document's failure to be specific about the Fourth Amendment's mandate to denote a "place to be searched, and the person or things to be seized."

And third, the government offered no assurances that its search would not impermissibly infringe upon the constitutional privacy rights of other parties. The judge noted that the potential for such an outcome would be especially high if the hacked computer was located in a public place, such as a work environment or library.

Smith has been outspoken in other cases involving government requests to spy on individuals, being highly disinclined to grant judicial approval. He has stated that thousands of secret orders are approved annually by other federal judges.

Source: Source: ars technica, "FBI denied permission to spy on hacker through his webcam," Cyrus Farivar, April 24, 2013

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