It’s Now Legal for Police to Hack Your Computer Without a Warrant in Britain?

If it’s the job of the government to safeguard the interests of citizens, it’s sure hard to tell these days with moves like this.

Note: This is an article I wrote that was published elsewhere first. It has been republished here for archival purposes

Fresh on the heals of India adopting new surveillance techniques that make privacy one step closer to becoming history in that country, the Home Office of Britain has adopted a plan for British police to covertly hack citizens computers without a warrant.

Basically, if a police officer wanted to, he can go wardriving through the streets to find a persons computer and hack it. Failing that, police can send a malicious e-mail containing something like a keylogger and record things like e-mails and instant messages. Combined with EU legislation, anything found can be sent to other countries in Europe. It’s worth noting the irony in this – some authorities might be more than willing to point to how dangerous the internet is with cyber crime and, in turn, make the internet more dangerous with their presence.

Of course, it’s not really called hacking if police do it – it’s called “remote searching”. The euphemism is applied when it is explained that the police have to say that they had reason to believe some crime is about to take place. This can easily be taken in two different ways depending who you ask. Either this translates to, “We needed to go wardriving into your computer under some excuse we made up on the spot” or, “In order to protect the better public interest, we need to make sure people aren’t breaking laws on their personal computers.”

Either way, British civil liberties groups were not amused.

Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, the human rights group, said she would challenge the legal basis of the move. “These are very intrusive powers — as intrusive as someone busting down your door and coming into your home,” she said.

“The public will want this to be controlled by new legislation and judicial authorisation. Without those safeguards it’s a devastating blow to any notion of personal privacy.”

The police were on the defense of this:

The Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) said such intrusive surveillance was closely regulated under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act. A spokesman said police were already carrying out a small number of these operations which were among 194 clandestine searches last year of people’s homes, offices and hotel bedrooms.

“To be a valid authorisation, the officer giving it must believe that when it is given it is necessary to prevent or detect serious crime and [the] action is proportionate to what it seeks to achieve,” Acpo said.

(Source: Times Online)

All the while, the government appears to not have not revealed a stitch of safeguards judging by these early reports (though the government may wind up revealing a few soon since this move has also angered opposition MPs)

Not mentioned in the Times article is what kind of consequences this could have for other laws that could be proposed in the future. Already, the MPAA have been trying to lobby the government for a way to ‘automatically’ eliminate alleged piracy online internationally. It would be a surprise if the industry didn’t try and twist this into something for their own financial interests. It’s already starting to look like it’ll be another long year.

(Hat tip: Open Rights Group)

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: