Police will be allowed to hack into personal computers without a court order after being granted permission by the Home Office.
Ministers are also drawing up plans to allow police across the EU to collect information from computers in Britain.
European ministers initially approved the move last month, although the plans are still being developed by the Home Office and EU organisations.
The Home Office has confirmed that any 'hacking' will first have to be approved by a chief constable. It is also thought plans are being drawn up to allow law enforcement agencies from all EU member states to access PCs in the UK, if necessary during a criminal investigation.
Technology such as keg-logging and remote searching, which transmits information about the content of emails sent and websites browsed and monitoring wireless networks, are just some of the methods thought to be used by the police to access computers' contents at a distance.ng the development of technology to access computers' contents at a distance.
The proposals have angered civil-liberties groups. Shami Chakrabarti, director of the human rights campaign group Liberty, told the Independent: "This is no different from breaking down someone's door, rifling through their paperwork and seizing their computer hard drive". Chakrabarti is preparing to challenge the legal basis of the move.
"The police service in the United Kingdom will aggressively pursue serious and organised criminality, including where that takes the modern forms of hi-tech crime," added a spokesman for the Association of Chief Police Officers.
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