Top UK Cop Says Hackers Should Be Punished Not With Prison, But With Jammed WiFi Connections

from the yeah,-that'll-work dept

Here’s a story that starts out well. One of the UK’s top police officers, Chief Superintendent Gavin Thomas, has said that putting people in prison for offenses like hacking into computers makes no sense. He points out that it costs around $50,000 a year to keep someone in a traditional prison, and that education programs are likely to be a far more cost-effective solution, especially in terms of reducing recidivism. This is absolutely right, and it’s great to hear a senior officer admit it. Unfortunately, things go downhill from here. He told the Telegraph:

If you have got a 16-year-old who has hacked into your account and stolen your identity, this is a 21st century crime, so we ought to have a 21st century methodology to address it.

His solution is as follows:

He said convicted criminals could be fitted with electronic jammers around their wrists or ankles which blocked wifi signals and prevented them from going online.

Leaving aside the human rights implications, which to his credit Thomas acknowledges, there is another big problem with the proposal, as Techdirt readers have doubtless already spotted. The people wearing these WiFi jammers would be those who have been found guilty of some computer-related crime. By definition, then, they are likely to be tech-savvy. So they probably have other computers that can use Ethernet connections to access the Internet. In addition, they are unlikely to have any problems using Bluetooth or a USB cable to reverse-tether their mobiles to a system with wired access. The more adventurous might even try to rig up some kind of Faraday shielding to jam the jammer. In other words, this isn’t going to work, but would probably cause havoc with everyone else’s WiFi connections.

Back in 2015, Thomas was quoted by Computer Business Review on the topic of encryption, and the problems it posed for the police, when he said:

It is utterly essential for detectives and criminal investigators to use data held on smartphones and other devices when they are investigating serious crimes.

Given his belief that jamming bracelets would stop convicted computer criminals from using the Internet, the worry has to be that he shares the mistaken view that tech companies can create a safe system of crypto backdoors or “golden keys” that only the authorities can use. Let’s hope he takes some expert advice before offering an opinion on that one.

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Comments on “Top UK Cop Says Hackers Should Be Punished Not With Prison, But With Jammed WiFi Connections”

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Daydream says:

If a hacker wore a jammer that stopped Wi-Fi from working around him...

Then what would happen if he stood around in an internet cafe?

And incidentally, what would stop him from just using cellular data on a smartphone to do his internet stuffz?
(Jamming that would be outright illegal due to the potential necessity of needing to call emergency services if something happens.)

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: If a hacker wore a jammer that stopped Wi-Fi from working around him...

That was my first thought, after “well, he’d just use a wired connection, surely?”. Depending on how it’s implemented, a person could easily cause mischief around them and exploit that to commit further crime (while having a court mandated defence if caught “inadvertently” doing so).

Kudos for actually recognising that jail isn’t a solution to a lot of these problems, but if your idea can have numerous holes pointed out the moment it’s mentioned to anyone remotely tech-savvy, it needs a lot more work.

Roger Strong (profile) says:

Re: If a hacker wore a jammer that stopped Wi-Fi from working around him...

Jam all the cellular bands too.

I see this being implemented just as self-driving cars hit the road, relying on wireless connections for cloud data and processing and to talk to traffic lights.

Heck, the hackers will line up for this punishment so they can post the results to YouTube.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: The world is truly filled with idiots

Because their acts magically clean up when a democrat is in power too… oh wait… BLM formed under Obama cause… you know… those racist GOP assholes in power!

This one is not a party issue, both parties have no trouble with using the police to fuck with those they don’t like. They just do it in different ways.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: wifi jamming

Let’s go through the article again:

“it costs around $50,000 a year to keep someone in a traditional prison”.
That’s $50K/year for a maximum possible of 10 years (as per RIAA’s wishes).

Adding to that, prison will turn many hackers into hardened criminals (unless you jail them for life – MPAA’s and many 3LA’s wet dream).

These people aren’t your average dumb-ass who posts on Facebook during a theft either.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: wifi jamming

These people aren’t your average dumb-ass who posts on Facebook during a theft either.

You sure? These are the hackers who get caught. Not the good ones.

But I can imagine another scenario: someone who gets one of these blockers installed wanders into strategic locations, and lets people know they can pay them to go away.

After all, this is government-sanctioned RF jamming going on here. Nobody can get them arrested for complying with a court order.

Andy says:

Re: Re:

And get yourself banned from public spaces which has happened to many criminals in the UK. Also how can you get internet through cable if you are banned form having access to one or have it monitored or even have your smartphone taken from you and a series of alarm systems when you do use one of your friends.Maybe even give a little electric shock the first few times you are within 1 meter of a 3g or lte device.

The idea is sound the implementation, a little more difficult but doable.

Anonymous Coward says:

Starting a pool: how many milliseconds would it take your average teenaged hacker to invent a Faraday Boot?

I’ll buy in for “3”, “4”, and “17”

Second pool: how many milliseconds would it take your average juvenile delinquent’s parent to find a crackpot lawyer willing to claim that wi-fi has deleterious effects on human tissue, and sue for cruel+unusual punishment?

It would be so much easier just to pass a new law saying that photons will not vibrate in certain frequencies in the presence of convicted criminals. After all, we have the best lawyers in the world, and I can’t believe they couldn’t come up with suitable wording if they’d just lawyer harder.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

the trouble with that is that monitoring software they put in your computer can be defeated by wiping out and reinstalling the operating system.

And it can also be defeated with a firewall. You can prevent their monitoring software from “calling home”, as it were, by blocking the right port and/or IP range in your firewall, and their monitoring will not work.

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