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Techno cops needed to catch cyber criminals – Blunkett

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Police must embrace cutting edge technology to stay ahead of criminals in the fight against crime, the Home Secretary will tell an audience of senior policemen tonight.

David Blunkett is due to tell members of the Police Foundation that they need to make effective use of technology long before it gets into criminals hands if there is to be any hope of keeping a lid on serious and organised crime.

The Home Secretary will outline the three key challenges facing law enforcement agencies: to exploit existing technology to the full; to identify emerging threats as well as new opportunities; and to be prepared for the next step in criminal behaviour and terrorist activity.

Speaking ahead of the conference, Blunkett said: "We live in an increasingly technologically sophisticated age. Organised criminals are using high-tech means to evade the law and commit serious crimes such as drug running, people trafficking, fraud and terrorism. And at a local level, criminals are using new technology to commit the same old crimes in new ways.

"Developments in biotechnology, nanotechnology, and the widespread use of computers all pose law enforcement threats and opportunities," he added.

One step beyond

Governments can no longer afford to wait and react to technology advances, the Home Secretary will argue. Instead governments need to encourage law enforcement agencies to "keep one step ahead of the criminal" by embracing new technologies and making the best use of existing technologies.

By way of example, the Home Secretary highlights improvements in "less-lethal technologies" [Tazer guns to subdue suspects] and improvements in body armour for the police. Technology is also being used to cut red tape for police officers. New radios, hand held computers, mobiles and laptops cut back on bureaucracy, allowing officers to spend more time on patrol and less time returning to the station to fill in forms.

Well and good but the Tetra project to supply next generation radios to the police and emergency services has become subject to the kinds of delays and overexpenditure that's become the hallmark of so many government IT projects.

The more you look at the Home Secretary's speech, the more it appears to be a subtle pitch for increased funding and a justification for wider police powers.

DNA database approaching 2 million milestone

On the latter point, the Home Secretary is fulsome in his praise for the UK's national fingerprint and DNA databases which he describes as "vital weapons in law enforcement".

DNA profiles on the database about to hit the two million mark, according to the Home Office.

At present only those charged with an offence go onto the database but under the government's proposed Criminal Justice Bill police will have powers to take DNA samples from any arrested suspect. Civil liberties campaigners are concerned about the lack of debate about the establishment of a national DNA database but that's a lobby that holds little sway with the Home Secretary.

Blunkett said: "New powers in the Criminal Justice Bill will allow officers to take DNA and fingerprint samples at the point of arrest rather than the point of charge. This sends the strong message that the victims of crime are being put first, and that those who commit crime will be caught, convicted and punished."

The UK's national DNA database grows by the day.

Blunkett said: "Every week our national DNA database matches over 1,000 DNA profiles taken from crime scenes with names on the database. Around 42 per cent of those matches are turned into detection within an average of 14 days. That is a huge achievement, particularly as we are about to load the two millionth DNA profile onto the database."

"The DNA and fingerprint databases have become vital weapons in law enforcement, making our communities safer by helping to put thousands of repeat criminals behind bars," he added.

According to Home Office statistics, one in four (24 per cent) of all crimes are detected but 38 per cent of crimes are detected where DNA has been loaded to the database.

Technology is also been applied to the collection and cross referencing of criminal fingerprints.

Blunkett said: "Around five and a half million sets of fingerprints are contained in the national fingerprint database. With new technology, fingerprints can be taken electronically - from a person, in the case of Livescan, or from objects, in the case of IRIS [Integrated Rapid Imaging System] - and checked against the database in a matter of minutes." ®

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