Sunday, 4 January, 2009

European Union plans to extend powers to spy on personal computers

Duncan Gardham

Jan, 4, 2009

The technique, known as "remote searching" involves bugging computers in homes and offices in order to monitor website use and email traffic. The Home Office is backing proposals by the EU council of ministers to extend electronic surveillance on private property. It would allow other European nations to request surveillance by British police.

The proposals have raised concerns among civil liberties groups and Shami Chakrabati, director of Liberty, said: "These are very intrusive powers, as intrusive as someone busting down your door and coming into your home.

"The public will want this to be controlled by new legislation and judicial authorisation. Without those safeguards it's a devastating blow to any notion of personal privacy."

Dominic Grieve, the shadow home secretary, said the proposals may benefit law enforcement but added: "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."

Terrorists, pedophiles and organised criminal gangs have been exploiting the internet in recent years as a way of avoiding traditional phone taps used by investigators.

Britain already allows remote searching under the Computer Misuse Act 1990 and police have carried out a small number of operations among the 194 clandestine searches conducted last year.

The police can use a number of techniques which include sending a computer virus through an email which infects the computer if opened.

They can also use a surveillance vehicle or neighbouring property to hack into a wireless internet connection.The most intrusive technique involves breaking into a property to fit a device to a computer which logs key strokes on the keyboard and transmits the results back to a listening station.

The Association of Chief Police Officers said remote surveillance was regulated by the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa).


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