A recent U.K. law slams privacy and property rights in the name of fighting terrorism. It allows police to make warrantless arrests, enter buildings without court orders, and punish people for possessing info that could be useful to terrorists. Ouch. And if that weren’t severe enough, it also applies to hackers. Quick, delete that copy of Back Orifice!
A U.K. law that took effect this year gives police far-ranging powers to make warrantless arrests, enter buildings without court orders, and punish people for having information that could be useful to terrorists.
The measure, called the Terrorism Act of 2000, received royal assent in July 2000. It became law in February 2001.
Parliament, after lengthy debate, defined “terrorism” as any threat to influence any government (U.K. or other) or group “for the purpose of advancing a political, religious or ideological cause.” Actions that are punishable include those that threaten or carry out “serious damage to property,” endanger public safety, or are are “designed seriously to interfere with or seriously to disrupt an electronic system.”
If you think that covers hackers, well, you’re right. And it’s no accident.
An IDG article in February confirmed that the Home Office plans to prosecute hackers under the Terrorism Act.
Unfortunately, the reporter never mentioned some of the more disturbing aspects of the law.
It allows police to randomly stop people on streets, who are then required to give their names (so much for anonymity) or go to prison. Cops can seize any cash that they believe “is intended to be used for the purposes of terrorism,” with no court authorization required. Gone is the traditional burden of proof: Judges are required to assume that contraband in the same building as the accused is owned by the accused “unless he proves that he did not know of its presence on the premises or that he had no control over it.”
Perhaps the most fascinating section restricts even owning information that could be useful to “a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism.” If hackers are terrorists, better delete your copy of Back Orifice and bugtraq archives now.
This Draconian law can be explained by the uneasy situation in Northern Ireland, which has been marked by recent car bombs and grenade attacks reportedly performed by IRA factions. (The law is, according to the Home Office, designed to be one uniform measure “to replace the existing, separate pieces of temporary legislation for Northern Ireland and Great Britain.”)
Americans, be warned. Congress is spending more and more time talking about bio-chem, Internet, and nuclear attacks. Soon you could be facing the same invasions of privacy and property.
At least the spirit of John Locke isn’t completely dead in his native land.
“The legislation which gives the authorities extra powers should have to be renewed by parliament regularly rather than being permanent legislation. The definition of terrorism is also far too wide, in spite of significant efforts by Liberal Democrats and others in parliament to improve it,” Simon Hughes, Liberal Democrat Shadow Home Secretary, said in a statement. The Liberal Democrats are the third largest political party.
In a discussion on a U.K. mailing list, Ross Anderson of Cambridge University said that the law was written so broadly that it could imperil his computer security work. Predicted Anderson: “So now we know. We are all terrorists now!”
Another list member chimed in: “So interfering with an electronic system in order to advance a political cause seems to me to be covered, or at least it could be argued that it was covered. Is defacing a website ‘terrorism?’ Or distributing a stupid word macro by email? It looks as if, had the ‘love bug’ mail message contain a political or religious slogan it could be defined as terrorism by this standard.
Below are some excerpts from the law. You can find the complete text at http://www.legislation.hmso.gov.uk/acts/acts2000/20000011.htm, and a protest site at http://www.blagged.freeserve.co.uk/ta2000/index.htm.
Arrest of suspected terrorists power of entry. 81. A constable may enter and search any premises if he reasonably suspects that a terrorist, within the meaning of section 40(1)(b), is to be found there. Terrorist information. 103. - (1) A person commits an offence if- (a) he collects, makes a record of, publishes, communicates or attempts to elicit information about a person to whom this section applies which is of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism, or (b) he possesses a document or record containing information of that kind. Arrest without warrant. 41. - (1) A constable may arrest without a warrant a person whom he reasonably suspects to be a terrorist. (2) Where a person is arrested under this section the provisions of Schedule 8 (detention treatment, review and extension) shall apply. Search of persons. 43. - (1) A constable may stop and search a person whom he reasonably suspects to be a terrorist to discover whether he has in his possession anything which may constitute evidence that he is a terrorist. Power to stop and search Authorisations. 44. - (1) An authorisation under this subsection authorises any constable in uniform to stop a vehicle in an area or at a place specified in the authorisation and to search [vehicle, driver, passenger, etc.] Possession onus of proof. 77. - (1) This section applies to a trial on indictment for a scheduled offence where the accused is charged with possessing an article in such circumstances as to constitute an offence under any of the enactments listed in subsection (3). (2) If it is proved that the article- (a) was on any premises at the same time as the accused, or (b) was on premises of which the accused was the occupier or which he habitually used otherwise than as a member of the public, the court may assume that the accused possessed (and, if relevant, knowingly possessed) the article, unless he proves that he did not know of its presence on the premises or that he had no control over it. Explosives inspectors. 85. - (1) An explosives inspector may enter and search any premises for the purpose of ascertaining whether any explosive is unlawfully there. (2) The power under subsection (1) may not be exercised in relation to a dwelling. Power of entry. 90. - (1) An officer may enter any premises if he considers it necessary in the course of operations for the preservation of the peace or the maintenance of order. Penalties. 22. A person guilty of an offence under any of sections 15 to 18 shall be liable- (a) on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 14 years, to a fine or to both, or (b) on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months, to a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum or to both. Seizure and detention. 25. - (1) An authorised officer may seize and detain any cash to which this section applies if he has reasonable grounds for suspecting that- (a) it is intended to be used for the purposes of terrorism, Weapons training. 54. - (1) A person commits an offence if he provides instruction or training in the making or use of- (a) firearms, (b) explosives, or (c) chemical, biological or nuclear weapons. It is a defence for a person charged with an offence under this section in relation to instruction or training to prove that his action or involvement was wholly for a purpose other than assisting, preparing for or participating in terrorism. Collection of information. 58. - (1) A person commits an offence if- (a) he collects or makes a record of information of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism, or (b) he possesses a document or record containing information of that kind. (2) In this section "record" includes a photographic or electronic record. (3) It is a defence for a person charged with an offence under this section to prove that he had a reasonable excuse for his action or possession. Power to stop and question. 89. - (1) An officer may stop a person for so long as is necessary to question him to ascertain- (a) his identity and movements; (b) what he knows about a recent explosion or another recent incident endangering life; (c) what he knows about a person killed or injured in a recent explosion or incident. (2) A person commits an offence if he- (a) fails to stop when required to do so under this section, (b) refuses to answer a question addressed to him under this section, or (c) fails to answer to the best of his knowledge and ability a question addressed to him under this section. (3) A person guilty of an offence under this section shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale. (4) In this section "officer" means- (a) a member of Her Majesty's forces on duty, or (b) a constable.
News Service: Politechbot