Britain's Home Office has quietly adopted a new plan to let police routinely hack into people's personal computers without a warrant.
The move, which follows a decision by the European Union's council of ministers in Brussels, has angered civil liberties groups and opposition members of Parliament. They described it as a sinister extension of the surveillance state which drives "a coach and horses" through privacy laws.
The hacking is known as "remote searching." It allows police or intelligence officers who may be hundreds of miles away to covertly examine the hard drive of someone's PC at his home, office or hotel room.
Material gathered in this way includes the content of all e-mails, Web-browsing habits and instant messaging.
Under the Brussels edict, police across the EU have been given the green light to expand the implementation of a rarely used power involving warrantless intrusive surveillance of private property.
The strategy will allow French, German and other EU forces to ask British officers to hack into someone's U.K. computer and pass over any material gleaned.