State-sanctioned PC hacking

7 01 2009

Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, as included in the Human Rights Act 1998 states that:

“Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence”

Following a meeting attended by Jacqui Smith between the G6 and United States Counter-Terrorism Symposium in Bonn last year a statement was released telling us that:

“Given the terrorists’ use of modern information technology, countries must take effective counter-measures especially in this area, and make them productive also for intergovernmental cooperation. The interior ministers note that almost all partner countries have or intend to have in the near future national laws allowing access to computer hard drives and other data storage devices located on their territory.”

The Register elaborates on what this could involve:

“Remote searches of computer hard drives. Security services would send emails with Trojan software attached to machines used by suspected terrorists. These would then serve a dual function, sending data from the hacked machine back to police computers, and also acting as key loggers.”

Last Sunday The Times reported that the government has now authorised the use of remote searching to scan hardrives:

“The Home Office has quietly adopted a new plan to allow police across Britain routinely to hack into people’s personal computers without a warrant…

Under the Brussels edict, police across the EU have been given the green light to expand the implementation of a rarely used power involving warrantless intrusive surveillance of private property. The strategy will allow French, German and other EU forces to ask British officers to hack into someone’s UK computer and pass over any material gleaned.

A remote search can be granted if a senior officer says he “believes” that it is “proportionate” and necessary to prevent or detect serious crime — defined as any offence attracting a jail sentence of more than three years.”

In a response to this story covered by The Register:

“A spokesman for the Home Office told the Reg that UK police can already snoop – but these activities are governed by the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act and the Surveillance Commissioner. He said changes had been proposed at the last Interior Ministers’ meeting, but nothing has happened since.”

A Home Office spokesperson also said that:

“The UK has agreed to a strategic approach towards tackling cyber-crime on the same basis as all Member States – however, the decisions in the Council Conclusions are not legally binding and there are no agreed timescales.

We fully support work to develop an understanding of the scale and impact of electronic crime across the EU and will work with Member States to develop the detail of the proposal.”

So, no mention of civil liberties and as commented on spyblog.org.uk giving the impression that they might eventually be “doing something”.

If technologically plausible, it seems that there are external forces working to invade people’s privacy to enhance international cooperation against criminals. Jacqui Smith, the authoritarian rights busting Home Secretary that she is, being quite willing to comply.  Law is often vague and open to manipulation and I doubt very much that this invasive snooping will be confined to so-called cyber-criminals. Yet another project to add to the ever growing list of state powers.

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