Cybersquad to combat computer crime

Jack Straw's announcement on cybercrime to milk existing police funds

Home secretary Jack Straw announced plans to create a £25m National High-Tech Crime Unit Monday, that will focus on combating e-commerce fraud and other types of computer crime.

The special unit, which will include members of the police, customs and excise, the National Crime Squad and the National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS), will begin work next year. Up to 80 "cybercops" will be deployed both nationally and locally to tackle growing levels of crime on the Internet.

At a press conference, Straw said: "The significant cash injection I am announcing today will boost the police service's capability to investigate crime committed through computers, including paedophilia, fraud, extortion and hacking," while the main focus does appear to be on e-commerce.

The unit will combat fraud aimed at British Internet companies, cracking down on sales scams and hacking attempts on consumers' personal credit information. It will target Internet criminals who are commodity driven in particular, where their main motive is financial profit. Bob Packham, deputy director general of the National Crime Squad said: "If you look to the future e-commerce is taking off and if business and industry goes electronic then organised crime will go electronic."

Nigel Williams, director of Childnet International, is pleased to see the linkage that has been drawn between the new unit and the local police force. Williams is concerned however that the money is coming from existing Home Office funds to police in England and Wales. "The staff are going to require considerable training, and will probably have to look outside of the UK for expertise," Williams commented.

He is doubtful that the unit will have sufficient expertise to guarantee an immediate response to alerts of suspected child-sex offenders prowling the Internet.

Williams is sceptical about whether protecting children will be a priority for the unit given the Home Office's reluctance to review current legislation on "entrapment".

"The issue still remains about whether existing legislation is adequate to cover online luring," he argued. The Home Office is claiming that a recent briefing paper from the Internet Crime Forum has not recommended a change in law. "You get the impression the Home Office has said to the forum that they don't need new legislation -- we are seeing a circular defence," argued Williams.

Last week, children's charities severely criticised Yahoo! for not doing enough to protect children using its chatroom facilities.

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