Police: We're overwhelmed by e-crime

The Metropolitan Police have said local forces cannot cope with the volume of e-crime, and want a national cybercrime response unit to be set up
Written by Tom Espiner, Contributor

The Metropolitan Police have warned that the UK's local police forces "can no longer cope" with e-crime, and have called for a national unit to be set up to address the problem.

In a report written by detective chief inspector Charlie McMurdie of the Met's specialist crime directorate, published on Thursday, the Met said that a national e-crime unit is needed to tackle cybercrime. This national e-crime unit would act as a central co-ordination point for police officers across the country, who are currently struggling to cope with the threat of e-crime.

The report described cybercrime as "the most rapidly expanding form of criminality, encompassing both new criminal offences in relation to computers (viruses and hacking etc) and 'old' crimes (fraud, harassment etc), committed using digital or computer technology."

At present, the responsibility for fighting e-crime is split between different law enforcement units. Serious, or Level 3, crimes are supposedly handled by the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA), although it emerged this week that the agency may be struggling to fulfil its remit. More minor crimes, Levels 1 and 2, are meant to be dealt with at a local police level.

However, McMurdie's report shows that this approach is failing. She warned that "specialist [local] e-crime units can no longer cope with all e-crime".

The solution proposed — creating a national e-crime unit — appears to be similar to the National Hi Tech Crime Unit (NHTCU), which was amalgamated into SOCA last year. Some experts have claimed that SOCA is failing to address e-crime effectively, or to liaise properly with British businesses.

The Met declined to comment on whether its report was calling for NHTCU to be re-established, which would effectively mean that SOCA had failed in its responsibilities towards e-crime. "It's all very early days. We're discussing the need for a national e-crime unit, but it's far too early to discuss detail at this stage."

Other key points made by the report included:

  • The ability of law enforcement to investigate all types of e-crime locally and globally "must be mainstreamed as an integral part of every investigation", for example specialist, murder, robbery, extortion demands, identity theft or fraud.
  • The police service cannot undertake to investigate all e-crime allegations as a matter of course: "Due to the volume of offences and the national and international nature of e-crime, sometimes involving hundreds or thousands of victims," said the report.
  • The Met would be willing to establish its own overarching computer crime unit to co-ordinate the response of its existing specialist units involved in fighting cybercrime. These are the Computer Crime Unit (CCU), Paedophile Unit; Counter Terrorist Command Intelligence Bureau, Clubs and Vice, and Computer Services Laboratory (CSL), Professional Standards, and Covert Policing Command.
  • Few UK virus writers and hackers have been prosecuted. "The policing of e-crime faces the challenge of keeping pace with technological advances," said the report. "Hackers and virus writers have evolved from largely enthusiastic amateur 'criminals' to financially motivated, organised global criminal enterprises."


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