British Spies to be Given Authority to Hack Into Smartphones and Computers: Report

Britain's spies will be given powers to hack into smartphones and computers in a new draft law, according to The Times of London.

The British government will present the Investigatory Powers Bill next month that will grant MI5, MI6 and GCHQ, the country's spy agencies, a "dizzying" range of electronic surveillance powers, the newspaper said.

With permission from the British Home Secretary, currently Theresa May, the bill will allow agents to hack phones, tablets and laptops legally rather than intercepting communications from them.

Privacy campaigners have criticized the government's bid to increase the surveillance powers of Britain's intelligence agencies but the Conservative government argues that it is needed to ensure national security, allowing agents to monitor individuals who are linked to threats of terrorism.

According to The Times, sources "close to the Home Office" say that the government is moving to boost the powers of surveillance because criminals are using encryption techniques more regularly, making them increasingly harder to monitor.

A Home Office spokesman told the newspaper yesterday that the draft bill would "update the legal framework governing the use of investigatory powers to ensure law enforcement and the security and intelligence agencies have the powers they need, subject to strong safeguards and robust, independent oversight."

Hacking a device would allow the agencies to obtain all of the information on it, including documents and photographs, and also take control of the device's camera to take photos or its microphone to record conversations, according to experts quoted in the newspaper.

"Increasingly, [intelligence agents] can't read communications sent over the internet because of encryption," digital evidence expert Peter Sommer told the newspaper. "So their ability to get information from interception is diminishing. The best way around this is to get inside someone's computer."

The measures were not included in the government's Communications Data Bill, known as the "Snoopers' Charter," and were originally blocked by the Conservative government's coalition partners the Liberal Democrats before David Cameron's party achieved a majority in May's general election.