A federal judge has temporarily blocked the FBI’s use of a controversial tool designed to detect and deter online threats from foreign intelligence agencies.
U.S. District Judge William Orrick said in a court filing that the FBI “has not demonstrated that the program would be a useful tool in preventing and detecting cyberattacks on Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms.”
The government had argued that the tool, which is called NetApp’s Targeting and Identifying Platform (TIP) and which is used by social media companies, is not necessary for law enforcement, and that it would be too burdensome on users to use it.
The government argued that it is not designed to target foreign governments, that it does not track whether people have actually used the software or not, and also that it lacks a meaningful way for users to monitor and stop other cyber-hacks.
“In order to achieve its stated goal of deterring foreign cyberattacks, the government is not only failing to use the technology, it is also failing to provide any real assurance that it can protect its users from cyberattacks,” Orrick wrote.
“Moreover, in light of the government’s failure to demonstrate that its use of the program is useful in deterring future cyberattacks by foreign intelligence agents, I conclude that the use of TIP does not comply with the requirements of the Act.”
Orrick did not issue a stay or order that the court block the FBI from using the tool.
“The government has failed to show that its program, which can detect and prevent foreign cyber attacks on the internet and other communication systems, is sufficiently useful to justify its use,” he wrote.
He noted that the bureau has used similar technology in the past.
He also said the agency is not yet able to determine whether the TIP program is a valuable tool for law enforcers.
The Justice Department had filed an amicus brief with the court in support of the FBI.
“TIP is a sophisticated surveillance tool that, like any other tool, has its limitations,” the department said in the brief.
“For example, the FBI has used the tool to monitor people suspected of committing cyberattacks and to prevent them from accessing information on public computers, but it cannot use the tool in a manner that will allow it to prevent or deter future cyberattackers.”
In addition to NetApp, the court said that Twitter and Facebook have also used the TIDP to monitor potential threats.
“It is unfortunate that the government has used a tool that is already available and that has the potential to be useful in detecting cyberthreats without any meaningful evidence of effectiveness,” the Justice Department said in its brief.
The brief also criticized the FBI for not providing clear guidance on how to use TIP.
The court wrote that the agency has “not yet adequately clarified its requirements for the use, use of, and use of this technology in investigations or prosecutions” and that “the FBI is not providing an explanation for why it believes the use is appropriate or necessary.”
The Justice Dept. said it is considering whether to appeal Orrick’s decision.
The tech industry has been lobbying hard against the use and abuse of TIDPs, and has even sued the FBI over its use.
The FBI has said that the TIDs are used in real time and that they help it quickly identify and investigate new cyber-threats.
The technology was used to stop a Russian troll farm, but the troll farm is back online after being taken offline.
Facebook has been under fire for its use and mismanagement of the tool over the past few years.
Facebook is also under scrutiny over the company’s use and misuse of the data it collects from users, including the fact that it has no way to see who is using the social media platform and that some users are not required to register.