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Hackers are terrorists, says UK law

'This bill actually strengthens people's civil liberties' apparently

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Under British law, cyberterrorists - known to you and me as hackers - are now to be treated the same as terrorists such as the IRA. The Terrorism Act 2000, which became law yesterday, has broadened the definition of terrorist organisations to include those who plan violent protests in the UK (even if the protest takes place abroad). Members of, and fundraisers for, such organisations will be subject to the law.

But under the banner of cybercrime, hackers have also been written into the definition of a terrorist. Anyone who tries to "seriously disrupt an electronic system" with the intention of threatening or influencing the government or the public, and they do it to advance "a political, religious or ideological cause", then they're a terrorist.

This sounds like an impossibly vague law and critics are split on whether it will simply be unworkable or whether mild offenders will be treated as dangerous criminals. The scariest aspect to this is the combination of Acts that Friend of the People Jack Straw has seen fit to make law. A whole range of nightmare scenarios are easily visible.

Jack defended the law, giving the nightmare scenario of people disrupting hospitals or power suppliers by hacking into computer systems - although the government seems to be doing a good enough job with that on its own. According to Jack: "This bill actually strengthens people's civil liberties."

The fact is that it is right to prepare strong laws against cybercrime as it will inevitably become a large problem very quickly as more and more of the world is networked together. Getting laws in before it kicks off would also prevent the current legislative mess where the Internet has overriden copyright and country-specific laws.

However, it would be good to remember that the Act replaces the 1973 Prevention of Terrorism Act which was brought in to help the police and secret services deal with the situation in Northern Ireland. That gave the police special powers to stop, search, arrest and detain anyone suspected of terrorist activity. It was (and is) a very strong law and Parliament was so unhappy about it that it insisted the law be renewed every year. The intention was that if and when the Ireland situation was solved, the Act could be repealed or watered down and we wouldn't be left with a Draconian law. ®

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The Terrorism Act 2000

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