High-tech police tackle Internet crime

The government's High-Tech Crime Unit launches today, but questions remain over just what its role will be

Home secretary Jack Straw today launched the UK's first high-tech crime unit on Wednesday at London's Science Museum.

The National High-Tech Crime Unit (NHTCU) has been set up in reaction to the increasing use of the Internet by criminals. Its remit will largely be centred around investigations of serious or organised crime using IT, such as hacking and fraud. Eighty officers will be deployed and the Home Office has given the unit a cash injection of £25m. NHTCU will be headed up by detective chief superintendent Len Hynds, previously of the National Crime Squad.

Jack Straw believes the unit will play a role in making the Internet a safer place for users. "New technologies bring enormous benefits to the legitimate user, but also offer opportunities for criminals, from those involved in financial fraud to paedophiles," he said in a statement. "We are determined that the UK will be the best and safest place in the world to conduct and engage in e-commerce, and that our children receive the full protection they deserve online so they can surf the Net in safety."

Others are not convinced. Director of Childnet International Nigel Williams is doubtful the unit will have the resources to deal effectively with paedophiles, and is also concerned that the money provided by the Home Office does not represent new funding.

Deputy general of NCIS Roger Gaspar admits that the police do not fully realise the extent to which the Internet is being used by criminals -- one of the first jobs of NHTCU will be to find out.

"One of the issues law enforcement faces is that the true extent of IT-based criminality is as yet uncertain because no statistics have been collated hitherto. Active investigation of IT-based criminality will generate intelligence with which to assess the nature and extent of the problem and so gauge the impact of the strategy," he said.

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