[news.bbc.co.uk] The plan has sparked fears that the government is looking to
increase police powers to hack into people’s computers without a court
warrant. UK police already do a "small number" of such operations under existing law.
However, the Home Office stated that the EU agreement will not affect police behaviour.
The plan, drawn up by the Council of the European
Union, makes broad statements on how to improve European cyber
crime-fighting, including inviting countries to introduce remote
searches if they are already provided for under national law.
In a statement regarding the agreement, the Council stated that
"the new strategy encourages [the police and the private sector]
to…resort to remote searches."
British law already allows police to remotely access computers
under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, which allows
surveillance to "prevent or detect serious crime".
A spokesman for the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo)
told The Times newspaper that police were already carrying out a small
number of these operations among the 194 clandestine searches last year
of people’s homes, offices, and hotel rooms.
"The UK has agreed to a strategic approach to tackling
cybercrime with other EU member states, but this is separate from
existing UK laws," the Home Office said in a statement, adding that the
plan is not legally binding and there is no timescale for implementing
Jacques Barrot, Vice-President of the European Commission, said
in a statement that the goal is to ensure EU countries are committed to
the fight against computer crime.
Professor Peter Sommer, a cybercrime expert at the London
School of Economics, doubts that the strategy will increase the amount
of police hacking.
"The products are out there, they’ve been available for quite a
long time and they are pretty sophisticated, however they probably
aren’t going to get used very much," he told BBC News.
Most anti-virus programs and firewalls will detect surveillance
attempts because they are designed to stop the remote access software
or Trojan-type viruses that hackers – even police hackers – usually
use, he explained.
Prof Sommer also pointed out that evidence gathered from
hacking is difficult to defend in court, because prosecutors must prove
that it has not been tampered with.
"Normally, when computers are examined forensically, a great
deal of care is taken to ensure that nothing is written to the computer
when the examination is taking place," said Prof Sommer. "Once you
start looking at a computer remotely, all of those controls vanish."