Government hacking illegal say experts

If authorities break into your computer, they could be breaking the law. Will Knight reports

Experts have concluded that the government probably does not have the legal right to hack into your computer as long as it is properly secured.

This news follows speculation by encryption expert Brian Gladman last week that the 1990 Computer Misuse Act could make it technically illegal for the authorities to routinely hack into computers, even with a search warrant.

"The computer misuse act has two clauses," explains Gladman, "one relating to hacking and one relating to altering data on a computer. The one on hacking has a get out clause for the government but the other one doesn't. I would argue that any entry to a computer system changes it because you are changing its electrical configuration." Gladman points out that hackers are still occasionally charged with stealing electricity in the US.

Despite his conclusions, Gladman is however, keen to point out that not all governmental hacking should be illegal adding, "If the government hacks into Iraq, I think most of us wouldn't think that that is wrong. It's a question of whether they hack into your computer or mine."

Legal expert and privacy campaigner Nicholas Bohm says that the computer misuse act probably does make it illegal for the government to break into a private computer if that computer has defences in place. He says, "If your system has been made secure with encryption, then it would be altering it to break into it."

Bohm also expresses fears that the forthcoming Regulatory Investigative Powers Bill (RIP) will remedy the situation for the government. "I think they [the government] will want to try to legitimise that activity. They don't seem to be learning that the more civil libertarians make a fuss about it, the more it encourages people to put up defences."

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