LONDON, England - Police agencies from various countries want to start secretly hacking into people's computers and sharing the information they find with one another.
According to a report in the London Times, law enforcement agencies want to employ remote searches to gather information from emails, instant messages and Web browsers through a new edict from the European Union's council of ministers in Brussels.
Traditionally, law enforcement agencies are able to conduct remote searches without a warrant if police believe it's needed to investigate a serious crime. The practice has been allowed in the United Kingdom since 1994.
But now, the practice has been expanded to allow agencies from France, Germany and other European Union agencies to search UK residents' computers without a search warrant. The plan is already drawing ire from protesters.
"These are very intrusive powers - as intrusive as someone busting down your door and coming into your home," Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, a British civil liberties and human rights group, told the newspaper.
"The public will want this to be controlled by new legislation and judicial authorization," Chakrabarti told the Times. "Without those safeguards it's a devastating blow to any notion of personal privacy."
A spokesperson for the UK's Association of Chief Police Officers told the Times that hacking into private citizens' computers is sometimes necessary in investigating cybercrimes such as child pornography, identity theft and terrorism.