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London police allegedly used hackers to target activists

Scotland Yard may have illegally gained access to email accounts.
Jack Taylor/Getty Images

If it wasn't already clear why it's a problem when police surveillance goes wrong, it is now. An independent investigator is looking into claims that London's Metropolitan Police used an illegal, roundabout way to access the emails of activists and journalists. An anonymous former worker alleges that a Met intelligence unit took advantage of India "counterparts" that used hackers to obtain email logins for innocent people ranging from Greenpeace protesters to Guardian reporters. The snooping had been going on for a "number of years," according to the insider, and there was reportedly widespread document shredding to cover up the monitoring.

There's evidence to support the claim. The tipster provided passwords for 10 email accounts, most of which have been proven authentic by the users themselves.

The investigation is still early, but a police spokesman says that the claims are "deeply troubling" and that the force will provide its "fullest possible support." If the allegations are as serious as they sound, though, they would represent a serious blow to the Met's reputation. They would show that a key law enforcement division was regularly spying on people who weren't even suspected of crimes, and was fully aware that it was doing something wrong.

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