Under new a new law adopted in the UK, the British police are now permitted to access data stored on home computers without benefit of a search warrant. Worse yet, officers are allowed to hack into computers remotely without notifying its owner. Even though officials say these methods would only be used in extreme circumstances, civil rights groups are understandably agitated.

According to the Times Online, "Under the Brussels edict, police across the EU have been given the green light to expand the implementation of a rarely used power involving warrantless intrusive surveillance of private property. The strategy will allow French, German and other EU forces to ask British officers to hack into someone’s UK computer and pass over any material gleaned.

"A remote search can be granted if a senior officer says he 'believes' that it is 'proportionate' and necessary to prevent or detect serious crime — defined as any offence attracting a jail sentence of more than three years."

Searches parameters apparently cover all data contained within the computer, including instant messaging transcripts, email, and Internet browser history.

The idea would be almost funny if it were part of a Monty Python sketch, but the thought of using such intrusive methods on private citizens is awfully frightening. I understand the need to protect law-abiding citizens, but some might suggest this is just a slippery slope that will lead to further privacy intrusions.

While it's possible to nab bad guys based on what turns up during a search of their computer, I think the vast majority of really evil people are smart enough to use less permanent footprints of their criminal intent. Certainly there are stupid law-breakers who will search "how to create a meth lab in my basement" right from their home computer, but in this day and age smarter pond scum will know better.

I also wonder what laws are in place to protect innocent people from these search methods. How do police know that the computer owner is up to something dastardly, and not a houseguest or family member?

While I appreciate the intent of these kinds of laws, I think they're likely to create more problems than they solve. Until stopgaps are put in place to protect innocent people from wrongful accusations, this type of evidence-gathering is as dangerous as the criminals themselves.

It strikes me as funny that the police can sit outside someone's house and hack their computer based purely on the police force's "beliefs," but every MP in the country was up in arms screaming for someone to be hanged, drawn, & quartered after the police searched the office of an MP with notice and cooperation of the Serjeant at Arms.

With the way the British government has been hemorrhaging private information of late, there's no telling what kind of trouble this is going to cause. Any time the police say they'll only use a power in the most serious of cases you can bet that within a week they'll be using it at every opportunity. The interesting piece of the puzzle will be when they mistake a computer outside the EU for one they want to hack and end up causing an international incident. If they're luck is anything like Gary McKinnon's, they'll be on their way to an espionage trial before they can finish bugging the Queen's email.

I don't think governments will ever learn that measures like these only make things worse - for every problem they solve by surreptitious means, they create ten more for themselves. Lord Acton had it right: All power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

"I don't think governments will ever learn that measures like these only make things worse - for every problem they solve by surreptitious means, they create ten more for themselves."

You're so right.

Thanks for the additional insight to the British government. I don't understand how this got approved in the first place, and I can't imagine what would happen if the same thing happened here. I suspect there would be major upheaval and I, for one, would be really upset.

Seems to me that the real winners here are the guys who create and sell solutions that shield personal computers from prying eyes.