UK Police Now Allowed To Hack Home PCs Without Court Approved Warrant

from the that-doesn't-seem-right... dept

In the US, the FBI has been known to use various hacking techniques, such as installing spyware or a keylogger on suspects’ computers — though it’s unclear if they obtain warrants before doing so. Over in the UK, police are now allowed to hack into computers of suspects without any court-approved warrant. Not surprisingly (and, reasonably) this has civil libertarians up in arms. It’s difficult to understand how any country that believes in civil liberties could do such a thing without some form of checks and balances in the form of a warrant. Otherwise, you’re just asking for such a program to be widely abused.

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Comments on “UK Police Now Allowed To Hack Home PCs Without Court Approved Warrant”

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30 Comments
bikey says:

Re: Oh?

I don’t know what the Times said, but this was also the top story in the Independent (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/new-powers-for-police-to-hack-your-pc-1225802.html), and yes, it didn’t say it had happened but that it was planned. The important thing is to follow it, because these things tend to become law before anyone even sees them coming.

ED says:

Re: Not true, fortunately

The UK isn’t heading towards a becoming police state – it already is one.

Top 10 list of police state measures in the United Kingdom:

10: RFID TAGS IN RUBBISH BINS
Local councils in the UK now put RFID tags in rubbish bins to monitor the amount of waste created by each household with a view to enforcing a “recycling tax.”

9: RFID’S IN PASSPORTS AND OYSTER CARDS
The UK government has now put a RFID chip into passports and the Oyster card records details on every journey made.

8: PAY PER MILE
Drivers will have an RFID chip installed in their car and be forced to pay for every mile they drive.

7: HAVE TO APPLY TO PROTEST
Do you want to make your voice heard? Well, if you want to protest in the centre of London you now have to apply for permission from the police.

6: X-RAY CAMERAS ON STREET
The government now plans to install X-Ray cameras in a bid to combat “terrorism”.

5: CHILDREN FINGERPRINTED IN SCHOOL
Children can now have their biometric data taken from them at school without their parents consent.

4: SHOUTING CAMERAS
There are now cameras that shout orders at people who “misbehave” in the street.

3: CCTV CAMERAS IN SCHOOL TOILETS
Schools justify the complete loss of privacy for children by saying it cuts down on vandalism and bullying.

2: NATIONAL DNA DATABASE
Police now want powers to take DNA samples from people on the street for petty offences such as speeding or dropping litter.

1: TERRORISM ACT
Under section 44 of the Terrorism Act police officers can search you without the need to show that an offence is being committed. Not only that, but even if you are innocent you can be held for 28 days without charge.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Where were the Libertarians when...

Was that the result of a hack? I didn’t think so, unless you really expand the definition of “hacking”… Lazy writers and politicians use the word for things it does not define.

Anyway, that’s neither here nor there. There’s a huge difference between a multinational corporation having some music files it was intending to make public get leaked early, and innocent civilians having their personal records investigated by a government without cause nor warrant.

If you can’t see that, you’re pretty blind.

Lonnie E. Holder says:

Re: Re: Where were the Libertarians when...

PaulT:

Oh, so it is okay if someone hacks into a computer with the intent of stealing files that supposedly were going to eventually be leaked anyway, though the files in question were rough versions of the songs that eventually got released and were never intended to be released as is, as opposed to the evil government hacking into someone’s computer. I think your comment is a slippery slope argument, and if you are unable to see that, you have no eyes.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Where were the Libertarians when...

You miss my points. I’m not advocatinged either action, but they are utterly different cases unless you have some kind of a link that states that the GnR case was the result of a remote hack (I can’t see one, and I don’t remember it that way).

Either way, as noted above, the MOST important thing is the legal status. The GnR thing was illegal and is being dealt with by the authorities under the existing law. Under this current issue we’re discussing, it would be permitted by the government and the victim would presumably have no recourse, regardless of how the data is used.

That’s the issue. *IF* the GnR issue was the result of an actual hack, it’s far less odious than the proposed measures here even if some actual harm had been done to the band (which I don’t believe there was, as per reasons already discussed here ad infinitum). One is a private individual committing a crime, which will be dealt with under the rule of law. The other is an over-reaching power that would allow a government to spy on and silence critics without due process or accountability.

Lonnie E. Holder says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Where were the Libertarians when...

PaulT:

I think we are working at cross purposes.

My initial comment was made in light of Mike’s post, because he seemed indignant at the potential of someone hacking into a computer with legal backing. Yes, it was potentially governmental hacking. On the other hand, when an individual hacked into a computer to steal unreleased songs, he was similarly indignant, but in favor of the individual. If hacking is wrong in one case, it should be wrong in the other case, regardless of whether the hack was remote or not. I do seem to recall that the person that took the Guns ‘n Roses songs had to overcome some sort of security to obtain the songs, but I am unsure.

I consider hacking to be odious, regardless of who is doing it. To somehow say that governmental hacking is worse than individual hacking (facts not in evidence) is bizarre to me, regardless of whether there is provable harm. Hacking seems to me to be like someone breaking into my house. If they do no harm, even locking the doors after they leave, is it still right? If they have governmental permission to pick the locks, is it still right? No. Is either worse than the other? Well, I prefer my government stay out of my underwear drawer, but while they may get a good laugh, they are unlikely to post the results on the web. The individual hacker is likely to post it where he/she can get the most notoriety.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Where were the Libertarians when...

Mike wasn’t indignant, he was confused at why GnR would be so up in arms about it, and about why our law enforcement resources are being used for these purposes.

Is either worse than the other?

We’re talking about a law that is ripe for abuse. Illegal activities by private citizens really have nothing to do with it.

Lonnie E. Holder says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Where were the Libertarians when...

I would have been up in arms about it had they been my files. I think Mike’s confusion (which seemed like indignation to me) was lack of understanding of their viewpoint.

Hacking is abuse in every sense of the word, by private citizens or by the government. I see no difference between the two, except one is a criminal offense and the other should be. Citizens need to be protected from unreasonable search and seizure.

The government should be held to a higher standard (which is kind of what you said), not a lower standard.

Overcast says:

If they can install spyware and keyloggers, what’s stopping them from dropping some child porn, etc. on someone’s machine?

Yep, be a good way to get an ex-spouse, political enemy, business competition, or annoying neighbor in loads of trouble.

And on the flip side, what’s to stop me from coding some Trojans for the police Network, putting them on some other poor bloke’s PC and then loading up his PC with Child Porn and ratting on him – with the explicit hope that it does in fact get plugged into the Police’s Network, lol

Things like this can be exploited on both sides – they need to keep that in mind. If I’m aware of the presence of their software on my machine, and let’s just say I write my ‘own version’ – they may not even know I’m coming back through the same gateway to them.

Lot’s of variables out there…

Skeptical Cynic (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I actually know of a case where a vindictive ex did this to get a better settlement in a divorce. The only problem was that her friend did such a good job that the poor guy (whom I had been contracted to help prove the files were not his) was later convicted of child porn and sent to prison for 5 years. So she can’t get any income from someone that can’t earn any.

She installed the back door before her access to the computer was denied. Then her friend put the files on his computer after editing the meta data in the picture to make it look like he was logged on and had been to the site with the pictures and had downloaded them.

Just think about it!?! This was just average people. What could the Gov experts do?

snowburn14 says:

Re: Re: Re:

“Just think about it!?! This was just average people. What could the Gov experts do?”

Probably nothing nearly so effective…

But on a more serious note, those who point out that they would be willing to sacrifice some of their right to privacy to be “safer” are missing the point (Ben Franklin quote aside). The police, etc., were always empowered to spy on you to their hearts’ content, provided they obtained a warrant. What’s at issue here is their ability to circumvent that requirement, thanks to some of the legislation passed since 9/11. To me, that seems like a very dangerous step to remove from the process for the sake of expediency.

Overcast says:

Never believe anything you read in the Times! It’s debunked here by that great bastion of truthiness and reliability, The Register.

“The Home Office has denied it has made any change to rules governing how police can remotely snoop on people’s computers.”

Oh yeah, a Government agency denying it… lol, that’s not really proof it’s untrue. It’s the wording; “The Home Office has denied it has made any change to rules governing how police can remotely snoop on people’s computers” – who said “it” – as in the “Home Office”. So perhaps “it” did not make any changes yet – it was past tense they were talking; “has made any change”. (Note they don’t deny the ability, just the change to the rules, so far).

Which seems to be the case:

“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 Home Office did not change it’s rules – the Brussels edict did. And I suspect the “rarely used power” – won’t be seeing such ‘rare’ use in the near future.

They go further to say: “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.”

Basically not denying a thing, just saying the ‘decisions’ aren’t legally binding and don’t have a timeline.

So really, they key is that the Home Office hasn’t made any changes – YET.

Tony (profile) says:

A fine line between protecting your rights and catching criminals

On the one hand I don’t particularly like people being able to snoop on what I do in private, whether that is my activities at home or what I have on my computer (not that I have anything to hide), but on the other hand I am all in favour of the police having the right tools to help catch criminals and terrorists.

In the UK there is so much more surveillence equipment everywhere than there is in the USA, however this has proved invaluable in tracking down terrorist activity, robberies, rapes and murders, lootings, riotings etc.

Which would you prefer? Your privacy, or better measures to help keep you safe?

Lonnie E. Holder says:

Re: A fine line between protecting your rights and catching criminals

Tony:

Your argument is one that is frequently used to permit more government access to your private life. The balance seems more and more in favor of the government all the time, in spite of the Privay Act (U.S.).

Yes, I want the government to have tools to catch crooks, but they also need probable cause and need to observe the constitutional rights of citizens, including the crooks. Otherwise, the government is no better than the hacker who stole the Guns ‘n Roses data. The government should set the standards of conduct, not do something because criminals already do it.

bikey (profile) says:

Re: A fine line between protecting your rights and catching criminals

When all this surveillance started, it was about ‘terrorism’, then crime was added, then property interests. Then more actions were determined to be criminal. Frankly, I prefer my privacy to omnipotence of states that have given no indication of giving a tinkers damn about me.

chukes says:

We need to open our eyes

1. “The Revolution of the elite and rich has almost been completed. This is a necessary step to prevent any middle class counter revolution. We don’t have long, the current world wide economic collapse is another reason to bring about the further globalization and elimination of national countries”
We need to open our eyes to the corruption and destruction of our civil liberties. One film that reiterates these points is zeitgeist and zeitgeist addendum. Visit http://www.zeitgeistmovie.com
“none are more hopelessly enslaved than those who believe they are free”

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