U.K. Home Office denies remote snooping plan

Published 5 January 2009

There have been discussions among EU ministers about giving police more authority to snoop on crime and terror suspects remotely, but the legal framework to do so is yet be created; what is more, techies says it cannot be done

The U.K. Home Office has denied it has made any change to rules governing how police can remotely snoop on people’s computers. Any such remote hack — which normally requires physical access to a computer or network or the use of a key-logging virus — is governed by the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA), and the rules have not changed. European discussions on giving police more access are underway, however (see 1 December 2008 HS Daily Wire), but despite this Sunday Times story, no change has yet been made. The paper claimed the Home Office “has quietly adopted a new plan to allow police across Britain routinely to hack into people’s personal computers.”

A spokesman for the Home Office told the Reg that U.K. police can already snoop, but these activities are governed by RIPA and the Surveillance Commissioner. He said changes had been proposed at the last Interior Ministers’ meeting, but nothing has happened since.

The German Interior Ministry explained at the time that “almost all partner countries have or intend to have in the near future national laws allowing access to computer hard drives and other data storage devices located on their territory”. The Germans noted, though, that the legal basis of transnational searches is not in place and ministers were looking for ways to rectify this.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “The U.K. has agreed to a strategic approach toward 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. We fully support work to develop an understanding of the scale and impact of electronic crime across the EU and will work with Member States to develop the detail of the proposal.”