Tuesday, January 06, 2009

UK - police hacking computers

Police 'encouraged' to hack more

The Home Office has signed up to an EU strategy against cybercrime that "encourages" police across Europe to remotely access personal computers.

The plan has sparked fears that the government is looking to increase police powers to hack into people's computers without a court warrant.

UK police already do a "small number" of such operations under existing law.

However, the Home Office said the EU agreement would not affect police behaviour and was not legally binding.

The plan, drawn up by the Council of the European Union, makes broad statements on how to improve European cyber crime-fighting, including inviting countries to introduce remote searches if they are already provided for under national law.

In a statement regarding the agreement, the Council stated that "the new strategy encourages [the police and the private sector] to…resort to remote searches."

British law already allows police to remotely access computers under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, which allows surveillance to "prevent or detect serious crime".

A spokesman for the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) told The Times newspaper that police were already carrying out a small number of these operations among the 194 clandestine searches last year of people's homes, offices, and hotel rooms.

"The UK has agreed to a strategic approach to tackling cybercrime with other EU member states, but this is separate from existing UK laws," the Home Office said in a statement, adding that the plan is not legally binding and there is no timescale for implementing the strategy.

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