Grassley pushes for clarity on FBI spy program

By Maggie Ybarra – The Washington Times – Friday, June 12, 2015

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley wants the FBI to reveal more details about its spyware program, which can be used to collect passwords from a targeted computer and pinpoint its location.

The Iowa Republican said he is wary of the FBI’s push to obtain more authority to use the spyware, which also has the ability to surreptitiously activate the computer’s camera and microphone, search the computer’s hard drive as well as intercept phone calls, texts and social media messages.

The program would require the amendment of a federal rule, known as Rule 41. Once that rule is amended it will be easier for FBI agents go through a judge to obtain approval to infiltrate computer networks and covertly install the spyware — capabilities that “raise serious privacy concerns,” Mr. Grassley said in a letter sent Friday to FBI Director James Comey.

“Publicly available information on the FBI’s use of spyware is often inconsistent,” he wrote. “It is unclear from public reporting which spyware programs the FBI currently uses and what their capabilities are.”

Using stealthy surveillance and deception to catch criminals is a lawful and well-recognized investigative tactic under certain circumstances and the FBI’s use of spyware in general has long been reported, Mr. Grassley noted. But the Senate Judiciary Committee needs more specific information about how the FBI’s uses its spyware in order to fulfill its oversight responsibilities, he said.

Mr. Grassley ticked off a laundry list of questions in his letter about the FBI’s policies and procedures for using the spyware, as well as the methods of deploying the spyware.

The FBI must respond to those questions by July 2.

To date, the U.S. Courts’ Judicial Conference Advisory Committee on Criminal Rules and Courts’ Standing Committee have voted in favor of the modifying Rule 41, Mr. Grassley said. That proposed change will next be considered by the Judicial Conference. If approved, be examined by the Supreme Court and be subject to a congressional review period.