Back in February I wrote about how the establishment of the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) was likely to lead to situation in which “level 2” eCrime could end up failing to be investigated. “Level 1” crime is “local” to a single police force, “level 3” crime is “serious” or “organised” and requires tackling at a national or international level — and “level 2” crime is what’s in-between: occurring across the borders of local police forces, but not serious or organised enough to be SOCA’s problem.
Over the past few weeks I’ve been at a Metropolitan Police “Knowledge Forum” and at a Parliament and Internet Conference. There I’ve learnt about how the police (at ACPO level, not just the Met) are intending to tackle eCrime in the future.
The jargon for the new policy is “mainstreaming” — by which is meant that the emphasis will move away from tackling “eCrime” as something special, and regular officers will deal with it just as “Crime”.
In particular when there are “e” aspects to a normal crime, such as a murder, then this will be dealt with as a matter of course, rather than be treated as something exotic. With the majority of homes containing computers, and with the ubiquity of email, instant messaging and social network sites, this can only be seen as a sensible adaptation to society as it is today. After all, the police don’t automatically call in specialist officers just because the murder victim owns a car.
Although there is a commitment to maintain existing centres of excellence, specialist units with expertise in computer forensics, units that tackle “grooming” by paedophiles, and undercover police who deal with obscene publications, I am less sanguine about the impact of this policy when it comes to crimes that rely upon the Internet to be committed. These types of crime can be highly automated, operated from a distance, hard to track down and obtain evidence about, and can be lucrative even if only small amounts are stolen from each victim.
I believe there is still some doubt that Internet-based crimes will be investigated, not just from lack of resources (always a problem, as anyone who has been burgled or had a car window smashed will know), but because it’s no-ones task and appears on no-one’s checklist for meeting Government targets (there’s still no central counting of eCrime occurring).
Mainstreaming is proposed to have some sensible adjuncts in that police forces will be encouraged to pool intelligence about eCrime (to build up a picture of the full impact of the crime and to link investigators together), and some sort of national coordination centre is planned to partially replace the NHTCU. However, although this may sometimes mean that an investigation can be mounted into an eBay fraudster in Kent who rips off people in Lancashire and Dorset — I am not sure that the same will be true if the victims are in Louisiana and Delaware — or if the fraudster lives in a suburb of Bucharest.
The details of what “mainstreaming” will mean for eCrime are still being worked out, so it’s not possible to be sure what it will mean exactly. It sounds like it will be an improvement on the current arrangements, but I’m pessimistic about it really getting to grips with many of the bad things that continue to happen on the Internet.