The government has quietly rewritten anti-hacking laws, giving GCHQ staff, intelligence officers and police immunity from prosecution for hacking into computers and mobile phones.

The Computer Misuse Act, which came into effect in 1990, states that gaining unauthorised access to computer material is a criminal offence, punishable by up to 12 months’ imprisonment and a fine.

Until recently, the only exemption to this Act was under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which allows a public authority to invade a person’s privacy, as long as it is “in accordance with law” and “necessary in a democratic society”.

In May 2014, campaign group Privacy International, along with seven internet and communications service providers, filed a legal complaint with the Investigatory Powers Tribunal, over GCHQ’s alleged use of hacking tools to infect computers and smartphones with malicious software, to remotely hijack users’ cameras and microphones without their consent.

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