The British Government has admitted its intelligence services have the broad power to hack into personal phones, computers, and communications networks, and claims they are legally justified to hack anyone, anywhere in the world, even if the target is not a threat to national security nor suspected of any crime.
These startling admissions come from a government court document published today by Privacy International. The document was filed by the government in response to two court cases initiated last year against GCHQ that challenge the invasive state-sponsored hacking revealed by Edward Snowden. In the document, the Government outlines its broad authority to infiltrate personal devices and the networks we use everyday.
Buried deep within the document, Government lawyers claim that while the intelligence services require authorisation to hack into the computer and mobile phones of “intelligence targets”, GCHQ is equally permitted to break into computers anywhere in the world even if they are not connected to a crime or a threat to national security.
Such powers are a massive invasion of privacy. Hacking is the modern equivalent of entering someone’s house, searching through their filing cabinets, diaries and correspondence, and planting devices to permit constant surveillance in future. If mobile devices are involved, the government can obtain historical information including every location visited in the past year and the ongoing surveillance will capture the affected individual wherever they go.
Additionally, the intelligence services assert the right to exploit communications networks in covert manoeuvres that severely undermine the security of the entire internet. The deployment of such powers is confirmed by recent news stories detailing how GCHQ hacked into Belgacom using the malware Regin, and targeted Gemalto, the world’s largest maker of SIM cards used in countries around the world.