back to article We need to make it even easier for UK terror cops to rummage about in folks' phones, says govt lawyer

The Government Reviewer of Terrorism Laws has declared that safeguards protecting Britons from police workers demanding passwords for their devices must be watered down. In a speech delivered to conservative think tank the Henry Jackson Society yesterday, Jonathan Hall QC, the "Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation"* …

  1. Khaptain Silver badge

    Wipe Password

    Idea for the darker thinking devs of this world.

    Create an application that allows a password to unblock the phone but completely wipes the contents beforehand...

    Along the same lines as the secondary code used on many alarm systems, it unlocks the alarm but silently informs the surveillance agency of an infraction/threat..

    1. Pen-y-gors

      Re: Wipe Password

      Good idea - and perhaps shorts out the battery so that it catches fire at 3am next day and burns down the police station.

      1. Spacedinvader

        Re: Wipe Password

        Not so great if you are being held i n said police station...

    2. alain williams Silver badge

      Re: Wipe Password

      Even easier: read messages and immediately wipe them.

      If they are not on the 'phone then giving someone the password will not tell them anything.

      A nice low tech solution. I like low tech.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Wipe Password

        You already failed. The messages were sent by something, through something.

        1. Anonymous Coward

          Re: Wipe Password

          You already failed. The messages were sent by something, through something.

          The something it was sent by is not in their possession, and the something that it was sent through had end-to-end encryption.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Wipe Password


          You already failed.

          With end to end encryption it doesn't matter - that's the whole point of it.

      2. doublelayer Silver badge

        Re: Wipe Password

        Does not work for most situations where the data they're looking for isn't just received messages, such as encryption private keys used by some apps, contacts, notes or recordings, photos or videos, metadata that can't easily be wiped, metadata that can be easily deleted but you didn't in time, access tokens or passwords letting them into other things, and the like.

    3. ThatOne Silver badge

      Re: Wipe Password

      > unblock the phone but completely wipes the contents beforehand

      ...and get condemned for obstruction of justice.

      Don't fool yourself, if you're innocent you just can't win. The only way to "not lose" is to be a real criminal (spy, terrorist). and in this way make sure those sledgehammers won't be used for swatting a mere mosquito (since apparently they have to be used).

      In short: The government thinks you're a criminal and you'll get what's coming to you anyway, so don't disappoint it.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Wipe Password

        Rule no. 1: Don't speak to the police.

        Anything you say can and will be used against you, so why do it?

        1. doublelayer Silver badge

          Re: Wipe Password

          Because the law that already exists makes not talking to the police and giving them what they want punishable with an extra prison sentence. Yes, it's obviously a massive abuse of the suspect's rights, but when the average citizen finds out that being silent can land them in prison for longer or in prison at all if they can't be convicted on another crime, they'll probably choose to speak up. That's why the law itself needs to be eliminated.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Wipe Password

            By all means speak to the Police, after all, you need to request your solicitor don't you?

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Wipe Password

        >> unblock the phone but completely wipes the contents beforehand

        unlock the phone and install malware, then at least you might make a little money when they decide that they must access the data.

    4. sebbb

      Re: Wipe Password

      iPhones do that, you can set that after 10 wrong attempts to unlock the phone gets wiped completely.

      1. Sir Runcible Spoon

        Re: Wipe Password

        That approach doesn't always work, especially if a logical copy of the data can be taken.

        What you actually need is a code that performs this function on the *first* attempt.

        1. phuzz Silver badge

          Re: Wipe Password

          "What you actually need is a code that performs this function on the *first* attempt."

          Which is great, until you accidentally wipe your phone because it was early and you'd had a couple too many the night before >>>

    5. DuncanLarge Silver badge

      Re: Wipe Password

      Unfortunately this may be of limited use. Rule one when trying to analyse a suspects drive is to image it and work on the image. If the drive then wipes itself al thats happened is the curent image is wiped. As you keep an unaltered original image sitting around you can just spin up another copy for a second attempt.

  2. Pen-y-gors

    Thin client

    Do we need a phone that acts as a very thin client? All activity is handled by a box that lives somewhere else - including phone calls, web access, email etc, so nothing on the phone to be seized. Don't even need a password on it. Just make sure that you have TWO of the 'remote boxes' - one for real use, and the other that you only use to access and phone your mum. When asked, you give the password for the innocuous one. Works as well for Homeland Security in the Land of the Free (TM), no social media trail!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Thin client

      Nice idea. Should be trivial to secure a conviction for Withholding Evidence when you fail to declare the second box when ordered to do so by the court. Which would be a nice little boost to the rate of people being charged (running at 7% as reported today).

      If they could stop wannabe Tory politicians from derailing rape trials that would be nice too, but getting cheap convictions of the little people like you and I is probably easier. Always go for the low-hanging fruit.

    2. whitepines

      Re: Thin client

      Of course, there's an even simpler and less questionable solution.

      Move out of Blighty to nearly anywhere else in the world that isn't China or North Korea.

      Even the USA has stronger protections than this, FFS. And the EU is quite nice.

      If British politicians have decided they don't want an effective high tech sector, why keep fighting them?

    3. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: Thin client

      >Do we need a phone that acts as a very thin client?

      Well with the voice assistants we seem to be moving in that direction.

      In which case the decision becomes do I use Siri/Alexa/Cortana/Google or convert to Alice/Xiaoyi/Mi.

      Not sure if any of these services use Nuance's voice biometric authentication, but that does away with passwords and could lead to some interesting access problems; expect to be asked (nicely) would you mind doing the talking...

      Mind you if you have a second language, you could probably run both Siri and Alice - to satisfy your two "remote boxes" criteria.

      1. Venerable and Fragrant Wind of Change

        Re: Thin client

        expect to be asked (nicely) would you mind doing the talking..

        Whoops, it seems my voice doesn't work on it when I'm this stressed.

  3. tiggity Silver badge


    Given that just about anything gets deemed a terror group if the govt / security folks don't like it, then scope creep will be massive.

    FFS I remember decades ago getting targeted photographed by the cops (before contentious video days) when protesting about racism / apartheid in SA (back when Mandela was still in prison & regarded as a terrorist by many UK MPs) at an event where SA ambassador was present. Being anti-apartheid back then meant you were regarded as very suspect indeed (waves hello to old Special Branch folk who used to hassle me).

    If these changes go through you'll see Extinction Rebellion (or whatever harmless (but inconvenient for some) protest group is causing a bit of traffic chaos in London) magically fall into terrorist investigation category.

    1. deive

      Re: No

      You missed the news on that then?

      1. Wellyboot Silver badge

        Re: No

        The Met backtracked PDQ to 'reviewing' the guidance when that daft idea hit the media.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: No

        From that link " a global movement of which the activist Greta Thunberg is a lead proponent." they have called a 17 year old Swedish girl a terrorist leader. UK gov better watch out, the children are sick of adults F'ing up the world. Better lock up everyone under 18. wtf?

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: No

        About time!

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward





    (keeps the plebs on the edge)

    As to brexit and other such trivial matters... nothing to see, move along, move along!

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge


      "economic well-being of the United Kingdom".

      Time to round up some Brexiters?

      1. Chris G

        Re: WAR ON TERROR

        "economic well-being of the United Kingdom".

        Well, I suppose that would give them the scope to nick Trump or Pompeo next time they come over trying to enforce the next stage of the Americanisation of British Economic Democracy.

        1. Charlie van Becelaere

          Re: WAR ON TERROR

          "Americanisation of British Economic Democracy."

          Properly, I believe that would be the Americanization of British Economic Democracy. Might as well just go all the way and honor <sic> the correct spelling.

          1. Roland6 Silver badge

            Re: WAR ON TERROR

            >Properly, I believe that would be the Americanization of British Economic Democracy

            Depends on context.

            If the writer was an American writing about the UK then it would be appropriate for them to talk about the "Americanization of British Economic Democracy".

            If on the other hand the writer is British and appealing to the UK audience then some would deem it more appropriate to talk about the "Americanisation of British Economic Democracy." If only to emphasis "we do things differently this side of the pond".

      2. Ordinary Donkey

        Re: WAR ON TERROR

        The economic well being of the United Kingdom can be improved by all sorts of evil acts. That line stinks of bad faith legislation.

      3. Stork Silver badge

        Re: WAR ON TERROR

        I have always liked the "economic well-being" part rather a lot, I find it cute and fluffy.

        Can't that be used as any sort of espionage against furrin businesses?

      4. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: WAR ON TERROR

        > Time to round up some Brexiters?

        Still living in cuckoo land I see

  5. Captain Hogwash

    Re: "for quite reasonably refusing to incriminate themselves or others"

    The police tend to view this as Perverting the Course of Justice. This is usually rewarded with a prison sentence.

    1. Adair Silver badge

      Re: "for quite reasonably refusing to incriminate themselves or others"

      Which would be perfectly fine if we could rely on the Police (and others of HM's security services) to apply the legislation at their disposal with integrity, just cause and a transparent determination to apply the law fairly and justly, i.e. not allow the law to be weaponised in order to intimidate those deemed 'awkward/inconvenient' by powerful people in order to pursue their own political/economic advantage.

    2. Captain Hogwash

      Re: "for quite reasonably refusing to incriminate themselves or others"

      Not sure why the thumbs down. I was once arrested and threatened with exactly this.

  6. Wellyboot Silver badge

    Pushing too far.

    >>>unclear whether the barrister was calling for the word "terrorism" to be inserted alongside "child indecency" and "national security"<<<

    If terrorism isn't covered under the 'National Security' catch-all then WTF is?

    >>>working against the clock ... Pre-charge detention – arrest and incarceration without being charged – for people apprehended under terrorism powers lasts for up to a fortnight. <<<

    That will be the 14 days (previously 2(ICBW) that Tony Blair backed down to after the original proposal (90 days detention without seeing a judge) stirred up a massive national shout about Habeas Corpus being a cornerstone of our freedom from government tyranny (going back to magna-carta).

    14 Days is quite long enough to for someone to 'disappear' of our streets without a judge being involved. Plod & a myriad other agencies are quite capable of simply watching a suspect until they have enough evidence for a judge to look at.

    1. Blazde Silver badge

      Re: Pushing too far.

      "If terrorism isn't covered under the 'National Security' catch-all then WTF is?"

      Presumably the problem is that anti-terror laws are now used so widely in many cases where there's no demonstrable national security threat. The legislation was originally aimed at defeating active terror plots against the clock so the bigger sentencing requirements reflect that imminent threat.

      Nowadays if a schoolkid from an Islamic background viewed an ISIS vid on TikTok and the evidence is on his encrypted iPhone they want to be able to put him away for 5(*) years instead of 2 but it's very far from being 'in the interests of national security'. Indeed it may be counter to those interests by contributing to his radicalisation. It's a 'terrorist' offence by virtue of being a conviction under legislation that has the word terrorism in the title, not by being actual terrorism.

      (*) 5 years is still nothing compared to the 15 he might get for the video offence so it's also proportionate, you see?

    2. ThatOne Silver badge

      Re: Pushing too far.

      > Habeas Corpus being a cornerstone of our freedom

      Sure, but they are trying to (gradually) fix that error.

      They are all dreaming of the good old times when the lord and his men-at-arms could put somebody away on a whim, for as long as they deemed necessary. Such happy, simple times, no having to actually justify your decisions, or respect the feelings of the Great Unwashed. Feelings! Pah, as if they could afford any.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Pushing too far.

      > Habeas Corpus

      Didnt that get abolished? I dont think anything in magna-carta still applies to modern times. Habeas Corpus was the last bit I believe.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Sounds familiar


  8. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge

    Ideal password

    I'm not telling you

    There that will keep the police at bay, pass a lie detector test and make the CPS look utter chumps when the case gets to court

    Mind you, the judge will double the sentence because he has not got a sense a humour....

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Ideal password

      That one is too easy to brute force but the meta could even be something like this post itself as long as it matches a usual response or phrase.

    2. Venerable and Fragrant Wind of Change
      Thumb Up

      Re: Ideal password

      Nobody is attacking me -- Polyphemus (the Cyclops).

  9. J.G.Harston Silver badge

    Henry Jackson Society? Isn't that the organisation Robert Heinlein disowned as being too right wing?

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Oppressive Dictatorship vs Democracy

    I'm starting to struggle to see the difference other than a token vote every so often.

    1. ThatOne Silver badge

      Re: Oppressive Dictatorship vs Democracy

      > I'm starting to struggle to see the difference

      Maybe because in spirit it isn't a real democracy anymore?

  11. Christoph

    What is the evidence for the need for these powers?

    He is loudly claiming that the powers are deparately needed to protect us from those terrible $CURRENT BOGEYMEN$.

    Where is the evidence for this need? How many times in the last few years did the lack of these powers cause a problem for the police?

    No handwaving please. State the number of times, with supporting evidence.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: What is the evidence for the need for these powers?

      There aren't any, most terrorists are already known to the police but they don't have the resources to monitor them properly (these powers don't change that because terrorists won't store stuff on phones or do stuff online anyway so it's useless). None if this has ever been about stopping terrorists or criminals. In my opinion it's part fear and part control. The fear is that everything you do can and will be monitored and the control comes from the fear and the ability to expand these powers to everyone and for other uses.

      On second thoughts didn't they arrest some extinction rebellion protesters before a protest last year? Not sure that counts as terrorism for the average sane person though.

      1. ThatOne Silver badge

        Re: What is the evidence for the need for these powers?

        > In my opinion it's part fear and part control

        Definitely, unfortunately I can upvote you only once.

        Part laziness and wishful thinking ("If we take away encryption, all bad guys will just surrender"), part fear-mongering ("The end is nigh - Unless we get more money, and more powers, and less workload, and less supervision").

    2. dorkian
      Big Brother

      Re: What is the evidence for the need for these powers?

      As for $CURRENT BOGEYMEN$ . . .

      . . . could you remind me which one it is today? Moslems? Nazis? Paedos? Animal rights? Black? Brown? Yellow? Red? White middle-aged men? Blue-stockings?

      Sorry, I have not been keeping up lately. I just need to know if the plods and spooks are coming for me.

      1. Ordinary Donkey

        Re: What is the evidence for the need for these powers?

        People who used to watch Friends. It's considered subversive now.

  12. User McUser

    Why is there always a time limit?

    especially when counter-terrorism police are working against the clock

    Because every single terrorist is a James Bond or 24 villain - they always have a time bomb (of one sort or another) and the only possible way to stop it is to unlock their phone, right?

    Since when are laws based on cliches and tropes?

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Does Jonathan Hall (or the plod) know anything about anything?

    1. Need to turn over "password"

    Fine. But the suspect may have taken alternative steps. See item #2 below.

    2. Need to turn over "encryption key"

    Suspect uses a private cipher. Some ciphers (e.g. book ciphers, steganography) don't have one

    3. Private ciphers are widely thought to be "very weak"

    See item #4 below.

    4. Asymmetry

    The "bad guys" can read their private ciphers in REAL TIME. The so called "good guys" may have to wait a while to read the plain text. Is 14 days enough? See "Beale Papers" for an example of a book cipher message still not decrypted after more than a century.

    * question for Jonathan Hall (and the Scottish plod, among other) is this:

    Q: What will this legislation achieve?

    A: Politicians will have evidence that they are "doing something". Actually the legislation achieves precisely nothing -- see above.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Dunno about anyone else, but my first reaction was "cunt off you spy agency sockpuppet"

  15. GrumpyKiwi

    Vital stuff

    It's critically important that your local council can demand that you unlock your phone so that they can prove it was you who was walking your dog nearby when the highly trained nose of the nearby parking warden smelled s*** (don't ask about how they're trained, it involves senior council management, a tonsilectomy, a rabbit shaped jelly mould and a corgi called Dai).

    1. julian_n

      Re: Vital stuff

      Local Council? Even the Food Standards Agencies have access to your communications.

      Now I know the wife's cooking is not top drawer, but I would never (dare) describe it as a biological weapon.

      1. Roj Blake Silver badge

        Re: Vital stuff

        I think the Welsh Ambulance Service has access too, so at least if you do get food poisoning they'll already be outside your house waiting for the call.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    We're back to (or never left) the hammer/nail paradigm

    The really bad guys won't be using too much - if any tech - because they probably never started.

    Personally I can think of several ways to communicate without using any device I own. Certainly with enough capacity and latency to arrange an atrocity.

  17. Aodhhan

    What do you expect from socialism?

    This law is typical of a socialist government. Think China, Venezuela, Ecuador, Russia, Cuba, (modern) Germany, (modern) France, etc.

    Socialist (left wing) leaders are so worried about keeping power, they do anything to ensure the general public has no power.

    Don't blame Trump, it's his administration which got rid of a lot of Obama's invasive left wing stormtrooper ideas.

    It appears, just like Obama, Theresa May and her minions in both houses of Parliament are doing everything they can to keep their power over the citizens.

    I'm no criminal, but there are many things on my computer/phone I don't want others seeing. My personal writings, who I'm communicating with, my salary, chats with a loved one, etc.

    You don't have to dig too far into history books to find how socialist governments take small innocent items of a normal citizen--only to spin and create HUGE stories on how any citizen is actually a spy, terrorist, general criminal. Hmm... why are you getting (spam) email from anti-government groups? You criminal!!

    This should be the reason people support Brexit. To get away from all the left-wing craziness of most of Europe. Look at all of the laws their left-wing leaders are enacting in France, Germany, Belgium, etc. to ensure they remain in power.

    Left-wing propaganda sure sounds good doesn't it. They pander to everyone, promising whatever to get your support--but does it ever truly work out in the long run? The only constant is higher taxes on everyone, with below average education institutions.

    While it's fun to bash Trump... you can't deny the success his policies have had. While the rest of the world is dealing with recession, the USA's economy is strong--and getting stronger. Trump's administration is handing out HB1 visas like crazy, allowing people from other countries to come in and work--especially in the tech industry, because the unemployment rate is only 3%; many companies can't find people to fill jobs--this is creating higher salaries since companies are competing for talent.

    So, UK... keep enjoying all of the policies and laws Theresa May's government enacted during her many... many years in power.

    Or maybe start making t-shirts promoting Brexit and Megxit. :)

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A defence might be that it is impossible for the person to comply with the order because the keys are no longer in their possession. e.g. They were stored on physical device that was destroyed before the order was received.

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