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UK government rewrites surveillance law to get away with hacking and allow cyber attacks, campaigners claim

Published 15/05/2015

British intelligence services have been exempted from laws making hacking illegal
British intelligence services have been exempted from laws making hacking illegal

The UK government has re-written the law to allow the British security agencies to hack people and conduct cyber attacks, campaigners have claimed.

Campaigners had been seeking to bring legal challenges against the intelligence agencies’ use of hacking, but the government appears to have changed the law to allow them to continue as they were. The change not only affects the existing claims but also “grants UK law enforcement new leeway to potentially conduct cyber attacks within the UK”, campaign group Privacy International claimed.

The case is still going ahead, but will be heard on the basis of “hypothetical facts”, since the government refuses to confirm or deny whether it uses hacking on UK citizens. But GCHQ was recruiting hacking specialists last week, asking for people, who could carry out “computer network operations against terrorists, criminals and others posing a serious threat to the UK”.

The changes aren’t the first time that the government has changed the law to get around the claim, Privacy International said. In February it release a code of practice for GCHQ which gives “UK spy agencies sweeping powers to hack targets, including those who are not a threat to national security nor suspected of any crime”, it said. That code is not primary legislation so does not receive the same process, and the government has refused to give full details on the code because it claims it will damage national security.

Privacy International said that the notes accompanying the changes to the Serious Crime Bill didn’t explain its full impact, and that no regulators, commissioners, industry or other members of the public were consulted before it came into law. The legislation was passed into law on March 3 of this year, and came into effect on May 3.

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Campaigners became aware of the change just ahead of the hearing of complaints from Privacy International and other groups. Those complainants, which also included internet and communications services providers, filed complaints with the watchdog that oversees the British spy agencies about their hacking activity.

Privacy International said that they received legal filings only the day before the hearing began that told it that the act had been re-written. The changes were made a few weeks after the complaints were filed, campaigners said.

“The underhand and undemocratic manner in which the Government is seeking to make lawful GCHQ's hacking operations is disgraceful,” said Eric King, deputy director of Privacy International.

“Hacking is one of the most intrusive surveillance capabilities available to any intelligence agency, and its use and safeguards surrounding it should be the subject of proper debate.

“Instead, the government is continuing to neither confirm nor deny the existence of a capability it is clear they have, while changing the law under the radar, without proper parliamentary debate.”

Further reading

Net police: Plans to allow cops to vet internet communications

David Cameron: UK is too tolerant and should interfere more in people's lives  

Snoopers' charter set to return to law as Theresa May suggests Conservative majority could lead to huge increase in surveillance powers

Tim Cook: internet snoops 'won't snare terrorists'

GCHQ mass internet surveillance was unlawful, secret court rules

US 'cracked most online encryption'  

David Cameron could ban encrypted chat services such as WhatsApp, Snapchat and iMessage under new surveillance plans  

Mass surveillance of UK citizens on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Google is legal, says government’s top anti-terror chief Charles Farr

Facebook status updates and Twitter posts intercepted by UK Government

Snooping tools GCHQ could use to hack your phone's microphone, camera and keypad: Nosey Smurf, Gumfish and Foggybottom

52% wary of expressing their views online, one in three do not feel free from government surveillance

GCHQ ‘using online viruses and honey traps to discredit targets’

GCHQ given access to US 'Dishfire' system that reads hundreds of millions of text messages from around the world, according to NSA documents leaked by Edward Snowden

 

Independent News Service

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