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Cops should be allowed to hack into computers, police officials say

Lucian Constantin | Nov. 1, 2013
Law enforcement agencies should be allowed to hack into computers to identify cybercriminals and collect evidence, representatives from Europol and the Dutch National Police argued in front of a room full of security professionals at the RSA Europe security conference in Amsterdam.

Jacobs also had doubts that the Dutch law would only be used for serious cases, especially since the proposal does not restrict the use of such powers to cybercrime investigations.

There's a danger that it will be used very often, and there are historical examples of this happening with other powers granted to the police, Jacobs said. When a law allowing phone tapping was first introduced and debated in the Dutch parliament, the government argued it would hardly ever be used, but today the Netherlands is one of the most active phone tappers in the world, he said.

When asked about the implications of Dutch police officers breaking the laws of foreign countries by hacking into computers located there, Zinn said the Dutch proposal limits the lawful intrusion powers to computers located in the Netherlands and computers whose locations cannot be determined.

If it's determined that a computer is located in another country, the lawful intrusion should not take place, he said.

Oerting was more supportive of the idea of cross-border computer intrusion conducted by law enforcement agencies, saying there are already similar agreements in the physical world. The Schengen Area agreement, an agreement among 25 European countries that abolishes passport and immigration control at their common borders, allows police officers from one country to follow suspects into another country while in hot pursuit, he said.

However, there are also questions about the implications of this law when considering that cybercriminals often use compromised computers to launch attacks.

For example, if during a lawful intrusion the police discover evidence of an unrelated crime possibly conducted by the compromised computer's owner, not by the cybercriminal they were investigating, would they use it to launch a separate investigation? According to Zinn, that might be possible.


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