UK hackers face life imprisonment, threat to whistleblowers – activists
Internet users who ‘threaten’ national security, by causing economic or environmental damage, could face a life sentence under new government plans to crack down on internet crime. Campaigners say the move will target whistleblowers.
The government proposal claims the laws are needed to deal with “catastrophic” cyber-attacks that “result in loss of life, serious illness and injury, or serious damage to national security, or a significant risk thereof.”
Proposals would update the existing Computer Misuse Act 1990, and would give judges the power to hand down harsher penalties on hackers. The laws would also incorporate internet users spying on the activities of UK businesses.
“Serious and organized crime blights lives and causes misery across the UK. It is a threat to our national security and costs hard-working taxpayers at least £24bn a year,” a Home Office spokesperson said.
“Through this bill we will ensure that in the event of such a serious attack those responsible would face the justice they deserve.”
Tough sentencing plans come after a report published earlier this week said more than half of Britons had been victims of cybercrime, including instances of theft and identity fraud, but less than a third of those affected actually reported them to the authorities.
In July this year, Prime Minister David Cameron pledged more than £1bn to the UK defense industry, with a ‘significant’ percentage going to projects designed to curb cybercrimes and terrorism.
READ MORE: Cameron announces £1.1bn investment in defense spending
However, digital rights activists have hit out at the government’s measures, claiming they would be arbitrary in practice and affect the wrong people in the long term.
Executive director of the Open Rights Group (ORG) Jim Killock said the legislation was drawn up too broadly and ran the risk of deterring whistleblowers.
“As the internet affects more areas of our lives, computer legislation drafted in one context may be more widely applied than originally intended,” he said.
“We would hope that an increase in penalties under the Computer Misuse Act would be matched with additional protections – for example, through a public interest defense.”
Last week, the Joint Committee of Human Rights also raised concerns that the additional laws were too broad and could criminalize non-threatening web activity, adding that “vagueness” could not be allowed in defining criminal offences.
The UK government has come under fire in recent months for proposing restrictions and greater surveillance measures on web activity, particularly to monitor potential terrorists online.
READ MORE: Secretive Home Secretary quizzed over UK mass surveillance
On Thursday, former GCHQ director Sir David Omand told Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee that the government needed to access deeper parts of the web that are currently protected by automatic encryption, arguing that law enforcement did not have the resources to monitor “fraudsters, thieves, terrorists and pedophiles.”