By Tom Espiner
July 18, 2006
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
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 cafs," 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
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
"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
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.
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