Barely two days after the United Kingdom's Investigatory Powers Act (IPA) was granted royal assent, making it legal for the UK's Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) to access information from anyone outside of the UK; the FBI now has authority to gain access to computers anywhere in the US with a judicially granted search. In some instances, the FBI can also gain access to information from individuals located outside the US thanks to changes to "Rule 41", a statute in the federal rules of criminal procedure that regulates federal search and seizure, which came into effect on 02 December 2016.

In the past, magistrates were only permitted to issue warrants under Rule 41 within the jurisdiction of their court. Now, thanks to the changes that have come into effect, the US government's legal hacking powers have been greatly extended, meaning that magistrates can grant investigating authorities the permission to conduct "mass hacking" operations on computers potentially located in any part of the world.

It has been a "public secret" that the UK's GCHQ has conducted illegal hacking, but thanks to the new IPA, their activities are now legal. The IPA categorises hacking or as stated in the document, equipment interference, as "targeted" and "bulk" with bulk equipment interference only allowed for outside the UK. This means that bulk hacking could involve the collection of data from a whole city, country, or region, if there is a threat, real or perceived, as determined by the UK government. Such hacking would go ahead without the target being allowed to plead their innocence or case.

The changes to Rule 41 in the US have raised some alarm bells as the FBI can now also legally hack into Americans' phones, computers and other devices. Furthermore, the changes required no congressional approval.

It remains to be seen how Afrikan countries will respond to this and whether authorities on the continent will argue against these laws or endorse them.

Cover Image Credit: FBI

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