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Home » Hacking News » U.K. Anti-Terrorism Law Imperils Hackers

U.K. Anti-Terrorism Law Imperils Hackers

by phiber on July 29th, 2001 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.


A ZDNET article reports that: "Computer hackers could be classed as
terrorists under a U.K. law." So does this Register writeup.



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.


Read the rest of the story here.


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