Super-Asbos planned for cybercriminals

Super-Asbos planned for cybercriminals

Summary: The Home Office is pushing for sweeping powers to ban suspected hackers from using the Internet, but security experts are concerned that civil liberties could be infringed

TOPICS: Security

The Home Office wants to give the police and the courts sweeping new powers which could see suspected hackers and spammers receiving the cyber equivalent of an anti-social behaviour order (Asbo).

The proposed Serious Crime Prevention Order is intended to combat organised crime where the police do not have enough evidence to bring a criminal prosecution. It would enable civil courts to impose the orders on individuals, even if they had not been convicted of a crime.

The proposals are contained within a Home Office green paper called New Powers Against Organised and Financial Crime", published on Monday.

A Home Office spokesman confirmed on Tuesday that the proposals, if enforced, would give the police and courts "extensive powers" against suspected hackers and spammers, which could extend to banning people from using the Internet.

Asbos give the courts almost unlimited powers when imposing conditions on the person receiving the order. Under the Home Office proposals, the courts would have almost unlimited discretion to impose the order if they believe it probable that a suspect had "acted in a way which facilitated or was likely to facilitate the commissioning of serious crime". In a civil court, hearsay is admissible evidence, and the burden of proof is lighter than criminal courts.

"The proposals would give extensive powers [to the courts and police]. Suspected hackers could be banned from the Internet, or banned from entering Internet cafés," a Home Office spokesman told ZDNet UK.

Those suspected of hacking or spamming could also have computer equipment taken away by the police.

"Equipment can be seized [if the proposals go through]," said the Home Office spokesman.

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Suspected cybercriminals could also have severe limitations imposed on their financial dealings, requiring them to use "notified financial instruments" such as credit cards and bank accounts, and limit the amount of cash they can carry. They could also lose their businesses, property, or anything which may "have been used to facilitate serious crime".

The proposals also call for greater data transfer and mining capabilities between public and private sector bodies for law enforcement, enabling the police to track financial transactions.

Security professionals have flagged up the impact that the Home Office proposals would have on civil liberties.

"It would be a good piece in the law-enforcement arsenal, if judiciously used," said Richard Starnes, president of the Information Systems Security Association (ISSA).

"Obviously one pitfall is that this could adversely affect people's civil liberties, without going through the judicial process. The judicial process is there for a reason — to prevent the State from abusing its citizens," said Starnes.

"In the US, this legislation would not be constitutional," said Starnes.

"If the Home Office can show it can use these powers in a reasonable and prudent manner, then I'm in favour," Starnes added.

The Home Office said that the courts would have to decide whether the proposed legislation would contravene individuals' rights under the European Convention on Human Rights, and insisted that the proposals were "a good idea".

"This [the proposals] is what we're going to push for," said the Home Office spokesman.

However, these proposals are not set in stone, as they will be debated in Parliament. Stakeholders including the police and judiciary will be consulted, as well as the public, who can download a PDF of the proposals from the Home Office Web site.

Topic: Security

Tom Espiner

About Tom Espiner

Tom is a technology reporter for He covers the security beat, writing about everything from hacking and cybercrime to threats and mitigation. He also focuses on open source and emerging technologies, all the while trying to cut through greenwash.

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  • I don't know about UK, but in the US, you can't call someone a criminal unless they've been convicted of a crime. Under these new proposals, anyone suspected of a crime (which includes anyone convenient) can be subjected to arbitrary limitations on almost no evidence. This is no country for men.


    ps. fix your email link.
  • Powerfull laws need to be executed by the right people or not become reality at all. Somehow I don't think that the police and courts will suddenly have enough means, skills, experience, tools, insight, training, etc, etc to prevent blunder after blunder (needly tucked away under the carpet of public awareness for political reasons) from taking place.

    Reality is that with a law like this the police and the courts can invade your life, privacy, goods and even your freedom when they THINK they have enough against you. Which is something else then having to PROOF it. And they can do this even BEFORE conviction.

    The enormous blunder people keep on making is thinking that when they hear something that 'sounds right' in some mystical way all that's required to actually make it a reality AS INTENTED and keep it that way will somehow follow soon enough by means of 'good managing' and everything opposing that are just 'details' from 'overfocused and emotional small groups of people'. Well, time and time again getting stucked in such a tunnel vision will prevent from seeing that ten ton truck coming from the right in time. Never mind the gaping whole further down the road. And that little red light glowing on your dashboard.

    Reality is that plenty of rights already have been taken away. And that plenty of powers already have been imposed. Each and every time because it was 'needed' to deal with 'something'. Well that 'something' is still there yet even more is still required? At which point are we going to admit that we may be going around the real issues here? That perhaps causes are elsewhere?
  • We don't like you and you haven't got any powerful friends appears to be missing from the definition, but it is there between the lines.
    Are these people taking animal farm as a script?
  • I'm in favour of such measures in principle.

    Surely the police would have to obtain sufficient evidence or have good solid, beyond a doubt, probable cause to do this?
    Just in the same manner they can't enter and search a property without a warrant issued by the court, they shouldn't be able to do this without going through the due process.

    I think the issue of Civil Liberty infringement is being way over-played. If spammers and fraudsters are left to continue to get away wth their illegal activities then I see no reason why their civil liberties (to use the internet etc) shouldn't be removed. They have not respected others, so they should punished accordingly, just as if someone who is sent to prison will loose their civil liberties and freedoms.

    The Police and Courts will need to coordinate somewhat with the ISP's, and this will undoubtably have an affect on the ISP's.
  • The one bit that stands out like a sore thumb is "spammers".

    How many applications require you to stop your virus / mails scan software for complete installs.

    How many users would think of disconnecting the PC from the network first?.

    A brand new PC, out the box, connected as suggested by the vendor, was set up as a mail relay within in seconds..... and I am supposed to know what I am doing.:)

    Your average "I must have a PC for email" would be first on the list of spammers that is nicked.
  • Since half the economy or more uses computers and the Internet as an integral part of thier job these powers give the state wide the right half the populace economically ineffective, i.e. to take away thier entire income, on the basis of mere suspicion.

    Given that no-one is above corruption that's far to much power to be given over lightly.

    Also the issue isn't just police or state corruption. Because hearsay evidence becomes admissable and the burden of proof is lowered significantly this could concievably be used by anyone with a little savy and some computer skills to frame someone out of proffesional jealousy, rivalry or any number of other motives.

    Imposing simplistic solutions on very complex problems only makes big problems bigger.

    The legal system needs to adapt for sure. Many of todays laws were not created with the current environment in mind and cybercrime cannot simply be ignored but the government and law enforcement agencies need to acknowledge the scope of the changes that are taking place globally.

    The world is radically changing the way it communicates and broad changes in the legal system may be needed to cope with this change in a way that doesn't expose it to manipulation.

    A tweak here or there may be expedient but it leaves the whole industry and the society that relies on it exposed. Considering the cost associated with a single large scale public project such as the new NHS system, wouldn't it be justifiable to spend a little more on developing robust unambiguos solutions for a legal system that supports all the computer and network systems in the entire economy?

    I intend to submit these comments during the public consultation if it allows for it. Let's hope it's not just a box ticking exercise.
  • Being an ex-police officer, this is one step closer to big brother. The police, being the police will have the power to twist this to their own ends and police do do that, the same way lawyers twist and find loopholes in the law to get crooks off. The guy from the U.S. got it right. A criminal isn't a criminal until they have been convicted of a criminal offence or everyone is innocent until being proven guilty.

    Imagine for a monent that you were charged with hacking crimes, went to court and the case was dismissed through lack of evidence and you have been prvoed to be innocent of the crime. The police however could still impose these ASBOS and go through your private/business financial dealings even though you are an innocent person. Also, who would be suspect. Theoretically anybody could be a suspect if they had access to a computer and an internet connection. The consequence of this is that this power could be used to investigate other activities under the guise of hacking.

    The judiciary is there for a reason.
  • From the land that once boasted about "the presumption of innocence" comes "the presumption of guilt". What the hell has happened? Middle of the last century a horrendous war was faught against fascism, and now the former opponents of fascism have become proponents of it, both at home and in the Middle East.

    Something like "We must be free who speak the tongue that Shakespeare spake" ... What happened to turn the British into sheep only fit for the [governement's] slaughter?
  • Why not just throw everyone in prison just in case?
  • I'm seething about this. We have a Scottish Home Secretary whose own constituents will not be affected combined with an unelected (Scottish) Lord Chancellor who only got the job because he's a former flatmate of (Scottish) Tony Blair.

    It appears that because Scotland doesn't have Magna Carta, Habeus Corpus and the Bill of Rights that the Scottish Raj that rule over us have decided that England (and Wales) don't need these protections either.
  • When can we have ASBOs for politicians? It seems to me that they're the biggest problem we have right now. These proposals wouldn't look amiss in any of the (many) totalitarian hellholes elsewhere in the world.