Seems like Britain's Home Office is channeling Dick Cheney. Last week I wrote that the U.K. is going forward with a plan to build a massive database of every phone call, email and chat conversation in the country. Supposedly they're going to datamine this stuff to find terrorists.
Now police have been given the power to break into British subjects' PCs without a warrant, The Independent reports. And there are plans on the drawing board to allow European police forces to access Britons' computers.
Remote searching can be achieved by sending an email containing a virus to a suspect's computer which then transmits information about email contents and web-browsing habits to a distant surveillance team.
Alternatively, "key-logging" devices can be inserted into a computer that relay details of each key hit by its owner. Detectives can also monitor the contents of a suspect's computer hard-drive via a wireless network.
Obviously, there's no Fourth Amendment in the U.K. (and it's not clear how vibrant it is in the U.S. either) but most people haven't yet considered Britain a blatant surveillance society. Shami Chakrabarti, director of the human rights campaign group Liberty, called on Parliament to ban the new powers. Liberty plans to protest the powers in a lawsuit against the government.
This is no different from breaking down someone's door, rifling through their paperwork and seizing their computer hard drive.
And Dominic Grieve, the shadow Home Secretary, said:
The exercise of such intrusive powers raises serious privacy issues. The Government must explain how they would work in practice and what safeguards will be in place.
Oh, and by the way, the Independent notes:
The first Britons will receive biometric identity cards at the end of the year, paving the way to the world's largest identity register. Genetic details of more than four million people are on the DNA national database, the highest proportion of any Western country. The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that Britain's policy of retaining samples from people never convicted of a crime – including children – breaches human rights.