Radio ham 'putting security details on Net'

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The Independent Online

The safety of members of the Royal Family, Cabinet Ministers and visiting heads of state is being put at risk because an amateur radio enthusiast is posting details of their bodyguards' communications on the Internet, it was reported today.

The safety of members of the Royal Family, Cabinet Ministers and visiting heads of state is being put at risk because an amateur radio enthusiast is posting details of their bodyguards' communications on the Internet, it was reported today.

The Hertfordshire man used a scanner to listen in to radio communications by security services, Special Branch and the military, then put the information he collected on an Internet newsgroup, according to the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

An intelligence officer described the man as "a severe danger to the public and to national security" and said terrorists could use the information he was publishing to commit atrocities.

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Simon Hughes said Parliament should consider banning the scanning equipment the man was using.

At present, possessing scanners is not illegal, although using them is.

Offenders can face fines of up to £5,000 and confiscation of their equipment – but must be caught red–handed to be convicted.

The Today programme secretly recorded the man claiming to be able to access the frequencies used by the Prime Minister's protection team, bodyguards of foreign heads of state visiting London, and police and military communications.

He told the programme: "It amazes me that our close protection boys still mainly use this stuff. In every other country in the world, even the smallest countries, their channels are secure."

The man admitted he was putting national security at risk "to a limited degree", but said terrorists or criminals "would be aware of this sort of thing whether I published them or not".

The intelligence officer was quoted as telling the programme that the man's newsgroup was "basically an ex–directory publication of radio frequencies used by Government security services, military and police and other emergency services throughout the UK".

Police were powerless to shut it down because it was based in the United States.

The intelligence officer was quoted as saying: "The frequencies and information published on the site, particularly the files published, contain highly restricted information which in the wrong hands could be used to the detriment of the Crown and the Government.

"It could be used by terrorists to perpetrate fairly serious atrocities.

"(The man) is a menace, a severe danger to the public and to national security.

"Our personal view is the site should be closed down.

"We would like to see scanners and their possession made illegal.

"They can only be used for illegal activities. It is similar to saying it's OK to possess a gun as long as you don't put bullets in it."

Hooligans linked to Millwall football club were reported to have tried to use the newsgroup to outwit police in recent riots, but the scanning enthusiast insisted that he would not help such people.

A message apparently sent by a hooligan to the site said: "We are always getting bothered by the police, so we want to turn it round and watch them closely. Does anyone know the exact frequency or listen to police when Millwall games are on?"

Mr Hughes told the programme: "The first thing that needs to happen is to make sure that the equipment that the police have is the best available.

"We have to make sure that our people doing this job have the most secure communications possible. If other countries can manage to provide this, then we can.

"If it is a matter of investment, that investment should be made."

The possibility of banning the possession of scanners should be considered, he said, adding: "We may well have to look at the investigation again. It is something that the (Commons) Security and Intelligence Committee and Home Affairs Committee should look at."

Using a scanner to listen to anything other than general reception transmissions without special authorisation is banned under the Wireless Telegraphy Act 1949.

A Home Office spokeswoman said the law also applied to publishing transmissions on websites, and added that people had been prosecuted successfully for such offences.

"The material would have to be assessed to see if any offence had been committed or if there was any civil wrong," she said.

UK–based Internet Service Providers (ISPs) must remove any such material if they become aware of it or they could also face prosecution, she said.

The Government was working to agree new international rules to help crack down on all forms of Internet crime.

"The Internet raises issues of trans–national jurisdiction and access to evidence across borders to facilitate prosecution," she said.

"The Government is currently working closely with colleagues in the EU, G8 and a variety of international forums, to develop agreements and protocols which will maintain the effectiveness of law enforcement in relation to the Internet and so ensure the protection of all legitimate Internet users.

"Police also work closely with their counterparts in the US on the issue of cross–border crime."