It's no secret that numerous countries see hacking as a viable security strategy, but the British government has been reluctant to admit as much. Ask it about GCHQ's ability to mess with communications, for example, and it will only say that whatever it does is legal and necessary (even if it isn't). The nation's leaders just got a little more honest, however: the UK Home Office has published the guidelines that law enforcement and spies follow when using "equipment interference" (read: hacking) to get into phones and PCs. The rule set largely deals with high-level issues such as proportional uses of hacks, data retention and the validity of warrants, but it's a rare acknowledgment that these digital intrusions even take place. It goes so far as to mention that the UK intercepts and bugs gadgets it wants to spy on, much like its American counterparts. Minister James Brokenshire claims that the government is being "as open as it can be" about its security policies by publishing the documents, and this is certainly a milestone given earlier secretiveness.
With that said, this is as much a defensive move as it is an olive branch. The Home Office is quick to note that the publication "does not confer new powers," but it does try to justify those powers. It's reportedly "vital" that security agencies have these permissions to stop terrorists and other major threats. Officials want to reframe their hacking activities in more favorable national security terms, rather than leaving the discussion to whistleblowers and other critics who see government hacking as a violation of privacy.
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