Court rules no warrant needed for police to hack your computer

Please consider donating to Behind the Black, by giving either a one-time contribution or a regular subscription, as outlined in the tip jar to the right. Your support will allow me to continue covering science and culture as I have for the past twenty years, independent and free from any outside influence.

Now the fourth amendment is under attack: A federal court has ruled that the police have the right to hack into your personal computer, in your home, without a warrant.

The implications for the decision, if upheld, are staggering: law enforcement would be free to remotely search and seize information from your computer, without a warrant, without probable cause, or without any suspicion at all. To say the least, the decision is bad news for privacy.

The Democrats want to nullify the first, second, and fifth amendments. A federal court wants to nullify the fourth. It seems to me that the Bill of Rights is increasingly not worth the paper it was written on.


  • Gealon

    Not that I would ever support illegal activity, but anyone with something to hide and a iota of common sense, would not keep that information on a computer with an internet connection. However it is now looking more and more like the common citizen now needs to take such precautions against invasions of their privacy.

  • Nick P

    An appalling decision. It will ultimately make it’s way to the Supreme Court.

    Of interest, the FBI sieved the site in 2014 and continued to operate it so they could gather MAC address, operating system, the computer’s “Host name”; etc. I expect the Prosecutors will argue that gave them probable cause. I wonder if Michael Jackson visited that site?

  • Pzatchok

    I have never expected complete privacy with my phone or ISP. They can be influenced by a any person or group with even a little power.
    They cannot afford to have principles in these cases.

    I guess its time to set up that separate firewall and bait computer.

    Used SmoothWall and an old i586 last time.

  • Edward

    I have great expectations of privacy, and if my computer is inside my home, I have a reasonable expectation (which is far less than my usual great expectation) that it is covered by not just my homeowner’s insurance policy but by my Fourth Amendment.

    My car is not inside my house, yet it is still covered by both my auto insurance policy AND my Fourth Amendment rights, as previously explained by the Supreme Court. Apparently, the justices in the US, these days, are post-constitutional, just like the rest of our government.

  • Nick P


    The FBI seized the website in 2014 and continued to operate it collecting IP Addresses, MAC addresses etc. They installed malware on the viewers computers. It’s misleading to say they didn’t have probable cause. They did. We’re talking about people who repeatedly visited a website dealing with child porn, not random innocent people reading the weather channel.

  • pzatchok

    My computer is inside my home but my ISP and phone service provider are not and any data of any type that goes through them is and always has been subject to their inspection and or the governments inspection.
    I have expected nothing more or less of them.

    Your house and car are only secure as long as a police officer cannot see something illegal going on inside. Like your bong on the coffee table or your dope on the car seat.
    If they see it they can enter and make the arrest. You then get to argue about it in court.

    It would be illegal to inspect my computer through my ISP just like it would be illegal to inspect my car by secretly passing a camera into it.

    The law states that my medical records and legal dealings with MY lawyer are private so I expect that privacy.
    Until my doctor is ordered to place all my records ‘online’. (For federal insurance purposes and my better health care of course.)

  • Nick P.


    “It would be illegal to inspect my computer through my ISP just like it would be illegal to inspect my car by secretly passing a camera into it.”

    Unless they had probable cause or reasonable suspicion. The fact that you frequent a child porn site (in this hypothetical example) could give them probable cause just like spotting your bong through the window.

  • pzatchok

    After reading the actual court case…

    The feds did not illegally search or invade his computer. In fact they might not have even acquired the information from his computer that they think they did.

    ALL web sites can do what the feds did. They just sent a request back to his computer for its IP address and MAC information.

    All internet capable equipment including smart phones have a MAC address hard coded into them. Its used to identify the piece of equipment to the router or cell tower its connecting to.
    Your home router can be set to only allow your MAC address(computer) to log into the router so that no one else can even have the chance to log into or hack your router.

    Here is an interesting thing.
    I once requesting my own ISP address and Mac address. Even after repeated attempts all I got was the ISP address and MAC number of my internet provided cable modem. Not the numbers assigned to my personal computer.
    Everyone logged into my home router would have identified as having the same numbers.
    I might have been doing it wrong and if anyone knows better please tell me. I am not a trained IT specialist.

    By the way all of this information can be faked or even copied and used by someone else.

    I am certainly not defending the guy. He deserves all the personal attention and affection he gets in his new federal home.

  • Nick P


    But that’s not quite what happened. The website was accessed by users via TOR, an anonymous portal used to spoof IP addresses and MAC addresses. People thought they were untrackable that way. I think that’s why the FBI planted malware on visitor’s computers to bypass the IP address and MAC address spoofing.

  • Edward

    Nick P,
    Probable cause is what the police use to get a warrant, not to break down the door. With probable cause, the police should expect to get the warrant. By bypassing the warrant, We the People should expect the police to eventually become corrupted and abuse their power.

    Especially in Obama’s America, land of the formerly free.

  • pzatchok

    TOR was started by the US government then released to the public.
    And you think that the US government doesn’t have a way of getting around the TOR cloaking set up?

    There is NO evidence that the government placed any malware on the subjects computer.
    That claim was made by the defendant without his ever investigating his own computer.
    The fact is thousands of tech savvy people have been on the network and not one has found a government implanted virus or malware. Not one.

    There is no anonymity from the TOR server to the client, just the expected anonymity from the client to the server.
    Once the TOR server is compromised it can be used to find a users IP and MAC address. The clients IP address MUST be known by the server otherwise it does not know where to sent any replies.
    A return address is always sent with every internet request. You can wrap it up inside a hundred ‘onion’ layers but its still there and used.

  • Nick P.


    When the police stop someone for their tail light being out and they smell marijuana, they don’t need a warrant. They can search the car on the spot, if the original stop was legitimate. If they observe you repeatedly visiting a child porn site, downloading images or videos etc, is that probable cause? It could be, but with the use of TOR, they don’t know if it’s you each time because your IP address and MAC address are hidden. Can the Government, after seizing the website, place malware on the visitor’s computer to report the true IP address and MAC address in order to establish probable cause, which would justify a warrant? A question that hasn’t been asked much less answered because no warrant was ever issued.

    In short, I’ve come around and think this decision is wrong and may have also been wrong even if a warrant was issued.

  • pzatchok

    When you access any website you do two things.

    You ask for the contents of the webpage you wish to view. Like this one. (Its ISP addy is by the way)

    And second you send your return address, your ISP, so the website knows were to send the page data.

    The feds just added the request for a MAC address also. To make sure they had his personal computer and not some other persons hacking on to his router or ISP account.

    No software was sent and installed.

    Bobs admin knows ALL of our ISP addresses.

  • Nick P.


    “No software was sent and installed”

    You didn’t read the link Bob provided. It says:

    “The FBI seized the server hosting the site in 2014, but continued to operate the site and serve malware to thousands of visitors that logged into the site. The malware located certain identifying information (e.g., MAC address, operating system, the computer’s “Host name”; etc) on the attacked computer and sent that information back to the FBI”

    “Bobs admin knows ALL of our ISP addresses”

    No it doesn’t. It only knows the ISP addresses that were reported. The TOR browser spoofs the inquiry, that’s the point and that’s why the FBI placed malware of the visiting computers so they could get the real IP addresses and the real MAC addresses. Why do you think people use the TOR browser?

    We can’t discuss this if you don’t read the link.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *