British authorities admit to hacking computers

The British Home Office has joined an EU-wide agreement that prompts European law enforcement agencies to resort to computer hacking (termed “remote searching” in the official document) in order to combat cyber crime. Commenting on the move, a spokesman for the UK Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) admitted that British law enforcement and intelligence agencies already conduct “a small number” of such operations every year. Specifically, the spokesman said that “remote searching”, which allows the authorities to covertly examine the contents and activity of targeted computers, was employed during “194 clandestine searches […] of people’s homes, offices and hotel bedrooms”. Unlike state agencies of other countries, such as Germany and France, British law enforcement and intelligence organizations are legally permitted to hack into computers targeted in criminal investigations under the controversial Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA), which was implemented in 2000. Prior to RIPA, a little-known amendment to the 1990 Computer Misuse Act allowed British state authorities to conduct remote invasions of targeted computers. Civil liberties advocates worry that Britain’s enrollment in the EU-wide agreement will permit state agencies of other European countries to employ British law enforcement and intelligence agencies to conduct computer hacking on their behalf, thus circumventing legal prohibitions in their respective national territories.

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Expert news and commentary on intelligence, espionage, spies and spying, by Dr. Joseph Fitsanakis and Ian Allen.

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