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June 11, 1997updated 05 Sep 2016 12:04pm


By CBR Staff Writer

Police in the UK have the right to intercept and read private e- mail messages, according to the conclusions of a study conducted by a unit of the UK’s Home Office. The National Criminal Intelligence Unit conducted a 10-month study that concluded that a special unit to deal with crime on the internet is needed. The study, entitled Project Trawler, also found that the criminal community was increasingly turning to the internet as a means of communication, hoping to bypass the attentions of the police. So, the police tried to get internet service providers to give them access to e-mail, as telephone companies do already. But the police found the law prevented them from getting anything other than names and addresses, rather than the messages themselves. Or so they thought. According to a report in the Daily Telegraph, this week the Home Office revealed a loophole in the UK law, whereby police can simply ask for a printout of e-mails from the ISPs, which they are permitted to hand over. If e-mails were to be intercepted by tapping phones, the police would require a warrant. If ISPs refuse to hand over a printout, the police can get a court order under the 1984 Police and Criminal Evidence Act. The loophole arises because the data protection and phone tapping laws were formed before the internet explosion. Groups campaigning for freedom of information in the UK – where there is no equivalent of the Freedom of Information Act – are calling for the sane laws that restrict phone tapping to be applied to e-mail as well.

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