Home Office finally approves UK cybercoppers
E-crime unit gets green light but overlap worries remain
The Home Office has finally approved the creation of a central police e-crime Unit(PCeU), a year after the idea was first proposed.
The cybercrime unit will be based at Scotland Yard and is expected to begin work early next year. The division will provide specialist computer forensics training and coordinate efforts to fight internet fraud across multiple police forces. It will become one of several police agencies in the UK dedicated to fighting cybercrime, but the Home Office is fighting suggestions that this might lead to either infighting or confusion over responsibilities.
The PCeU will be allocated £3.5m from central government and £3.9m from the Metropolitan Police Service over three years. The unit will also seek industry support. Original plans judged the cost of establishing the PCeU at about £5m in total, including £1.3m in start-up funding from the Home Office. The kernel of the division will be 50 officers from the the Met's Hi-tech Crime Unit.
Creation of the unit comes 12 months after the idea - developed by the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Metropolitan Police - was submitted to the Home Office, and follows pressure from industry and business in the two years since the National Hi-Tech Crime Unit (NHTCU) was borged by the Serious and Organised Crime Agency.
The Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) is tasked with tackling high-level international crime and only takes reports of cybercrime indirectly. So business victims of cybercrimewere left to deal with local police forces, which often lacked the resources or expertise to cope adequately. Consumer victims of internet fraud were told to report problems to their bank.
Home officer minister Vernon Coaker acknowledged problems in e-crime reporting and cybercrime investigation at a hearing before a House of Lords Committee back in May.
The solution at that point was to establish a law enforcement arm of the National Fraud Reporting Centre (NFRC) and for this division to become the lead agency for e-crime reporting.
"We'd like to see all reports of fraud sent to the NFRC ... which would become a one-stop shop for the reporting of fraud. We don't want a multiplicity of centres. We want to bring it together," Coaker told the House of Lords science and technology committee. "Different pieces of law enforcement do different things but there is a gap, without a shadow of a doubt. We need NFRC but then alongside that a law enforcement capability."
Fast forward five months, and following talks between Coaker and representatives of the City of London Police, SOCA's e-crime unit and the Met's Hi-tech Crime Unit, and a different multi-agency approach emerges, with the PCeU given a role alongside the NFRC in handling reports of cybercrime.
E-crime Minister Vernon Coaker said: "The new PCeU will work closely with the NFRC to tackle electronic crime reported to it. This will ensure that the NFRC has support in this highly specialised area. The PCeU will also play a vital role in helping police forces across the country improve skills and techniques needed to clamp down on e-crime."
Senior officers from ACPO, the City of London Police and SOCA all chipped in to the Home Office release, praising the upcoming creation of the PceU.
All well and good, but it's worth noting that friction between officers at the NHTCU and the Met's Hi-tech Crime Unit - who often privately (and with justification) complained of lack of funding in comparison to the results they achieved - was commonplace in the past, and it looks as if this may be repeated in the future. The PceU will "focus on supporting the new National Fraud Reporting Centre (NFRC) when it comes into operation in 2009," according to the Home Office.
More famously there were conflicts between Special Branch at the former Royal Ulster Constabulary and MI5 over responsibilities for the fight against terrorism in Northern Ireland in the 80s and 90s.
The Home Office, however, is at pains to dismiss suggestions of overlapping responsibilities between the multiple police agencies charged with fighting cybercrime.
"The Met will run the PCeU as a national resource, in conjunction with the National Fraud Reporting Centre and the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau. The PCeU will not overlap with existing organisations such as SOCA's e-crime unit or with CEOP (Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre), both of which have different and separate responsibilities, but the PCeU and these organisations will communicate regularly and will work together if required," it said. ®