Police disorganisation blamed for rise in Net crime

Police chief points the finger at ignorance in the force

A Metropolitan police chief has blamed lack of organisation in the police force for Britain's failure to crack down on Internet child pornography.

Thirteen suspected paedophiles were arrested Wednesday, as part of Britain's biggest ever police operation against child pornography on the Internet, but a chief superintendent at the Metropolitan Police has admitted that police officers in the Paedophile Unit are often poorly trained in dealing with Internet crime.

"It's a police organisation issue," argued the source. "ISP responsibility and assistance is also needed more than a change in law."

The police chief explained that international crackdowns on Internet pornography such as Operation Cathedral in 1998 are often coordinated badly due to a lack of organisation and planning across the countries involved. "Better intelligence and better international cooperation is vital. Sometimes it's crazy getting a three to four lined statement from Germany for example," admitted the source.

At the fifth annual Parliamentary ISPA (Internet Service Providers' Association) Forum Tuesday, police investigators were accused of often being ignorant about the information that ISPs hold on their customers and the authority that is needed to obtain confidential data. "The ISPs' criticism is valid in many cases," confirmed the source.

The Metropolitan Police told ZDNet News that the High-Tech Crime Unit -- intended to tackle the growing levels of crime on the Internet this year -- will be part operational as well as serving as a reference agency for police officers.

Barry Tucker, managing partner at city law firm Tuckers Solicitors, is sceptical about the new specialised unit receiving the promised £25m funding in one go.

"The police [force] is massively under-funded, as is the legal aid system. Defence lawyers do not have access to the high quality computer equipment and data processing that Net paedophiles have. The alleged criminals are pitting themselves against an unequal opposition," Tucker argued. "Unless the police is properly funded, there will always be this inequality [in Internet knowledge]."

The sentencing powers of the police in cracking down on Internet crime were increased last week, when two amendments were made to the Protection of Children Act. The sentence for possession of illegal Internet content rose from six months to five years, whilst the penalty for distributing pornographic or paedophile content increased from three years to ten years.

"It's a positive move by the government to increase the penalties, but at the end of the day it always depends on the crime," said Tucker. To illustrate his point, he argued that the couple involved in the murder of eight-year-old Anna Climbie in early January could have previously been involved in illegal activity on the Net.

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