ACLU Wants FBI’s NIT Warrant Files Unsealed

A motion was filed in Maryland court by the ACLU requesting information on why the FBI infected users of a free email service with malware. The civil liberties group’s team of lawyers are pushing for the docket sheets that are tied to the warrant to deploy the malware. The FBI deployed malware against TorMail users.

The docket sheets would explain the general information regarding the warrant, and what judge issued it. This information still hasn’t been made available to the public. TorMail, which isn’t connected to the Tor Project, is a free mail service only accessible through the Tor browser.

“We don’t know how a warrant that affected thousands of people, including innocent people, activists and journalists; were caught up in this warrant,” Brett Max Kaufman, the attorney who filed the motion, said.

TorMail, along with other sites, were hosted on Freedom Hosting Network. FHN hosts a variety of sites only accessible through the Tor Network. Some of the sites hosted included child pornography sites; the reason for the warrant in the first place. Notes in the filing point out that TorMail is not one of the child porn sites.

In July of 2013 the FBI seized Freedom Hosting’s servers. On the 22nd of the same month, the warrant was issued to use an NIT, or Network Investigation Technique, on the child porn sites, which included PlayPen.

NITs are designed to be installed on computers to help authorities track down actual locations of users. The warrant was issued on July of 2013, and used up until August 5th of the same year. Users of TorMail reported noticing that on August 4th, the website began trying to install software that was later found out to be the NIT used in the  FBI’s take over of the child porn site PlayPen.

The ACLU filing reads:

“There is reason to believe that the malware warrant issued by this court on July 22nd,2013 was the source of authority for the deployment of malware not just against, a chid pornography defendant, but across Freedom Hosting websites and services; which had thousands of users, including against innocent users of TorMail. The sealing of the docket sheet associated with the July 22, 2013 warrant prevents these concerns from being aired and debated publicly. Indeed, it prevents the public from learning or confirming even the most basic facts about the deployment of malware for law enforcement purposes: the fact o judicial approval is unconfirmed; any reasoning supporting such approval is inaccessible; even the reasons for precluding public access are themselves inaccessible.”

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