The FBI can no longer hack a suspect’s computer to infect it with spying malware without a warrant, a federal judge in Texas ruled.
Following the child pornography case involving Jeffrey Torres’ activity on dark web child porn site Playpen, US District Judge David Ezra has ruled that secretly collecting information from a computer is still a search under the Fourth Amendment, thus requiring a warrant.
“The Network Investigative Technique (NIT) placed code on Mr Torres’ computer without his permission, causing it to transmit his IP address and other identifying data to the government. That Mr Torres did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in his IP address is of no import. This was unquestionably a ‘search’ for Fourth Amendment purposes.”
The FBI took over Playpen for two weeks in 2015 and used it to infect visitors with malware that would reveal their IP address. After his personal computer was hacked by the FBI, Torres filed a complaint to contain the evidence which, in his opinion, had been collected in “an ‘unlawful’ search.”
A judge in Virginia had previously ruled a warrant is not necessary in such situations, so it is now up to the US Congress to clarify the situation and make a decision that applies across the country.