UK police now have the power to remotely disable mobile phones, even if the owner hasn’t committed a crime.

The Digital Economy Act, which has just passed into law, allows officers to place restrictions on handsets that they believe are being used by drug dealers.

Police wouldn’t be able to disable devices directly. 

Instead, the Director General or Deputy Director General of the National Crime Agency, or a police officer of the rank of superintendent or above, would have to apply for a court order that would then be sent to a telecommunications provider. 

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“Regulations may make provision conferring power on a court to make a drug dealing telecommunications restriction order,” reads a section of the .

“‘Drug dealing telecommunications restriction order’ means an order requiring a communications provider to take whatever action the order specifies for the purpose of preventing or restricting the use of communication devices in connection with drug dealing offences.”

It adds that users who commit a drug dealing offence, users “facilitating the commission by the user or another person” of a drug dealing offence and users “likely to facilitate the commission by the user or another person of a drug dealing offence (whether or not an offence is committed)” can be targeted by officers.

The final point will cause widespread concern, as it means police can now pre-empt criminal behaviour and penalise members of the public even if they don’t actually commit any offences.

“It is hard to argue that this pre-crime intrusion into individual liberty is necessary and proportionate when it can be authorised ‘whether or not an offence is committed,’” Myles Jackman, the legal director for the Open Rights Group, told .

Last week, authorities gained access to . 

Security agencies haven’t revealed how they managed to access the data, which is protected by end-to-end encryption, but say they have the technical expertise to repeat the process in future.

This suggests they can perform the same exploit to gain access to the messages stored in any other handset, whether the user has committed a crime or not.  

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