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TechDirt

The UK’s long-gestating Digital Economy Act has finally gone into force. The law is mainly interested in porn and pirates — two issues most of the UK public is far less interested in having subjected to intrusive regulation.

But just keeping an eye on who is or isn’t availing themselves of porn/torrents isn’t the only intrusive aspect of the Act. As Joseph Cox of Motherboard points out, an amendment to the law grants some pretty scary new powers to UK law enforcement, allowing them to kill citizens’ means of communication.

[L]aw enforcement agencies can remotely disable or restrict a mobile phone if it is suspected of being used for drug dealing or related to it, and in some cases regardless of whether a crime has actually been committed, according to legal commentators.

Law enforcement isn’t being given a kill switch. But it’s being given the next best thing. With a court order, police can approach service providers and have them restrict or cut off service. The only thing law enforcement will have to provide is a vague theory the targeted phones may be involved in criminal activity.

Orders can apply if the user is “facilitating the commission by the user or another person of a drug dealing offense,” or “conduct of the user that is likely to facilitate the commission by the user or another person of a drug dealing offence (whether or not an offence is committed).”

Nice touch there, with the “whether or not an offence is committed.” A person may not know someone they communicate with is involved in criminal activity, but they’re at risk of having their phone service interrupted (possibly indefinitely) nonetheless.

The only way this part of the Act [PDF] could be considered “narrowed” or “tailored” is its limitation to alleged drug-related crimes. That narrowness is immediately removed once you realize how things like buying gardening supplies or driving around with too many air fresheners is considered evidence of drug trafficking.

So, UK police will be doing even more “pre-crime” work, robbing people of their ability to converse with others or keep up with the world around them using nothing more than a target being in the same social circle as criminal suspects currently under investigation.

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