This week has finally seen an announcement that the Police Central e-crime Unit (PCeU) is to be funded by the Home Office. However, the largesse amounts to just £3.5 million of new money spread over three years, with the Met putting up a further £3.9 million — but whether the Met’s contribution is “new” or reflects a move of resources from their existing Computer Crime Unit I could not say.
The announcement is of course Good News — because once the PCeU is up and running next Spring, it should plug (to the limited extent that £2 million a year can plug) the “level 2” eCrime gap that I’ve written about before. viz: that SOCA tackles “serious and organised crime” (level 3), your local police force tackles local villains (level 1), but if criminals operate outside their force’s area — and on the Internet this is more likely than not — yet they don’t meet SOCA’s threshold, then who is there to deal with them?
In particular, the PCeU is envisaged to be the unit that deals with the intelligence packages coming from the City of London Fraud Squad’s new online Fraud Reporting website (once intended to launch in November 2008, now scheduled for Summer 2009).
Of course everyone expects the website to generate more reports of eCrime than could ever be dealt with (even with much more money), so the effectiveness of the PCeU in dealing with eCriminality will depend upon their prioritisation criteria, and how carefully they select the cases they tackle.
Nevertheless, although the news this week shows that the Home Office have finally understood the need to fund more ePolicing, I don’t think that they are thinking about the problem in a sufficiently global context.
A little history lesson might be in order to explain why.
Back in 1930’s, Bonnie and Clyde and other US bank robbers were using the new-fangled automobile to flee across state lines — creating jurisdictional problems as a result. The US solution was to make bank robbery (along with auto-theft and other related offences) into federal offences rather keeping them as state-specific infractions. In particular this meant that the FBI could provide federal level policing (tracking down and killing John Dillinger for example).
We have the same jurisdictional issues dealing with cyberspace, with criminals in one country fleecing consumers in another while using systems hosted in a third. The Convention on Cybercrime addresses part of the problem by trying to ensure international consistency where eLaws are specifically needed (which of course is only the case for small parts of eCriminality, fraud is fraud whether eEnabled or not). However, there is limited inter-jurisdictional co-ordination for eCrime investigations — for example Interpol (often incorrectly perceived to be international police force) merely keeps a large database and passes faxes from one place to another.
In practice, most cross-border investigations are done as “joint operations” and the jointness is usually very limited — one force does all the legwork and a liaison officer in the other country deals with local paperwork. There’s usually a quid pro quo element to these joint operations, for budgeting reasons if no other.
What isn’t happening, or at least only in a handful of very specialised areas, is any international co-operation in setting priorities or selecting cases to pursue. Every country is doing its own thing about eCrime, and there’s a widespread impression that any criminal who can operate from “across the state line” is essentially immune from serious investigation.
We identified this problem last year when we (Ross Anderson, Rainer Böhme, Tyler Moore and myself) wrote a report on Security Economics and the Internal Market for ENISA. It’s not an easy one to fix whilst politicians (and populaces) are unwilling to see “foreign” police officers operating in their country, and the establishment of a truly international “cyber police force” seems equally unlikely.
Our policy proposal to tackle the issue harks back to WWII’s SHAEF, which has morphed into similar arrangements within NATO. In essence liaison officers from multiple forces would sit around a single table, working with a central coordinator, to set policy and decide which investigations to pursue. They would then communicate back to their own countries, who have specifically budgeted to provide appropriate assistance. So it’s very like “joint operations”, but the scheme is multi-laterial, and has a true command and control function in the centre — who will quickly learn to shy away from politically sensitive topics and make a real impact on eCriminality.
To summarise then, a welcome to the Home Office for finally finding a small amount of funding for some country-wide ePolicing; but it’s well past time to be working on world-wide initiatives.