The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) can still spy on users who use the Tor browser to remain anonymous on the web.

Senior U.S. District Court Judge Henry Coke Morgan, Jr. has ruled that the FBI does not need a warrant to hack into a U.S. citizen's computer system. The ruling by the district judge relates to FBI sting called Operation Pacifier, which targeted a child pornography site called PlayPen on the Dark web.

The accused used Tor to access these websites. The federal agency, with the help of hacking tools on computers in Greece, Denmark, Chile and the U.S., was able to catch 1,500 pedophiles during the operation.

The FBI also took control of PlayPen and left it live for about a couple of weeks before shutting it down.

Morgan said that the FBI's hacking without a warrant did not violate the Fourth Amendment that protects American citizens from irrational seizure and search.

"The Court finds that no Fourth Amendment violation occurred here because the Government did not need a warrant to capture Defendant's IP address," says the ruling (PDF). "Generally, one has no reasonable expectation of privacy in an IP address when using the internet."

The judge added that internet users, who take help of the Tor network to mask their IP address "lacks a reasonable expectation of privacy" in their IP address.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) suggests that the latest court ruling is "dangerously flawed" and believes that the decision will be upheld on appeal.

"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," says EFF.

The latest decision by the district court judge is said to be bad for the privacy of U.S. citizens. The EFF still believes that there are slight chances of the decision will not be upheld on appeal.

Online privacy has become a big concern for people who use the internet on a regular basis. Hackers are always on the lookout to breach computer systems and steal personal and financial data. Spying by federal agencies is another reason why people want to remain anonymous online and use anonymity tools such as Tor browser.

However, it seems that Americans will still have to bear the fact that even anonymity tools are not enough to escape from the prying eyes of the FBI.

Photo: Dave Newman | Flickr

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