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My Lords, the Committee will get a feeling of déjà vu.
I rise to speak to Amendment 159 and others, and start by acknowledging that equipment interference—hacking, in common parlance—with a person’s computer or phone can be justified by known or suspected threats or by an actual incidence of serious crime. However, I still have two concerns. Some types of hacking pose a risk of serious unintended consequences for the target device and collateral damage to devices connected to it or even whole networks, right up to the national level. My other concern is that in the case of hacking by the police rather than by the security agencies there is a danger that a defence lawyer could, rightly or wrongly, claim that vital evidence located on the target device had been tampered with, so putting a successful prosecution at risk.
There are several known examples of large-scale unintended consequences of hacking by the authorities, and no doubt many more that we do not know about. One example is GCHQ’s attack on Belgacom, Belgium’s largest telecoms company, during 2010 and 2011. It involved infiltrating the home computers of several Belgacom staff to acquire their company passwords. Then highly sophisticated malware was installed on Belgacom’s systems to allow GCHQ to acquire large amounts of data. It cost Belgacom many millions of pounds and a lot of time to clean up its systems. Another example is a test by GCHQ that accidentally closed down an entire mobile network in a major city in this country for half a day. So there is a good case for the extra safeguards in Amendments 159 and 160, which are intended to reduce the risk of equipment interference going out of control, and I support them.
On the subject of the danger of allegations, accurate or otherwise, that the police had contaminated evidence in the device that they subjected to equipment interference, I would be interested to hear the Minister’s views. In the Joint Committee, my concerns were brushed aside by the police witnesses, but surely there is a serious danger that the police will be accused of planting, deleting or amending evidence just as they used to be about slipping incriminating evidence into the defendant’s pocket.