To the outrage of civil liberties groups and the government opposition, the UK Home Office has begun permitting police and MI5 officers to hack ("remote search") people's computers without their knowledge and without a court warrant. Information gleaned can then be shared with other European forces, in line with a shift in EU policy. The goal, as with all such moves, is to track down terrorists, paedophiles, and cybercriminals.
One method for stealth surveillance involves installing spyware on targetted individuals' computers, normally by sending people emails with infected attachments. This can, of course, be done from anywhere. Another method entails hacking directly into people's wifi networks from close range. A third involves law-enforcement officials breaking into people's homes and directly installing spyware, such as keyloggers, or attaching physical monitoring devices to their machines. Any material on such hacked computers would be admissible in court.
This situation is not unlike the controversial powers granted by President Bush to the National Security Agency (NSA) to tap people's communications without their knowledge and without a warrant. In the UK, all that would be needed to justify such an operation would be that an officer "must believe that... it is necessary to prevent or detect serious crime and [the] action is proportionate to what it seeks to achieve," according to ACPO (the Association of Chief Police Officers).
Shami Chakrabarti, head of the UK civil-liberties group Liberty, questions the legality of the practice, saying, "These are very intrusive powers--as intrusive as someone busting down your door and coming into your home. The public will want this to be controlled by new legislation and judicial authorisation. Without those safeguards it’s a devastating blow to any notion of personal privacy."