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05 January 2009, 12:00

Government backs more remote searching of private PCs

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The Times and Telegraph newspapers have both reported on government plans to introduce "remote searching", which would allow the police to routinely hack into personal computers without the need for a warrant. According to the reports, the Home Office is backing the European Union Council of Ministers proposals to extend electronic surveillance on private property.

Remote searching is already allowed under the Computer Misuse Act 1990 and it is reported that the police have already carried out a number of these searches as part of the 194 clandestine surveillance operations that took place last year. Techniques range from using email to send a trojan that can report on a machines activity, to listening in over wifi, or even installing physical key loggers in keyboards.

A spokesman for the Association of Chief Police Officers said that such remote searching was already regulated under the Regulations of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) noting "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."

Liberty director Shami Chakrabati said "These are very intrusive powers – as intrusive as someone busting down your door and coming into your home" and that Liberty would be seeking to challenge the legal basis of the proposals. Dominic Grieve, the shadow home secretary, considered that there were benefits to law enforcement, but that "The exercise of such intrusive powers raises serious privacy issues. The government must explain how they would work in practice and what safeguards will be in place to prevent abuse."


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