Britain’s National Crime Agency has spent the last five years trying to undermine encryption, saying it might stop them arresting hundreds of men every month for downloading indecent images of children. Now they complain that most of the men they do prosecute escape jail. Eight in ten men convicted of image offences escaped an immediate prison sentence, and the NCA’s Director General Graeme Biggar describes this as “striking”.
I agree, although the conclusions I draw are rather different. In Chatcontrol or Child Protection? I explained how the NCA and GCHQ divert police resources from tackling serious contact offences, such as child rape and child murder, to much less serious secondary offences around images of historical abuse and even synthetic images. The structural reasons are simple enough: they favour centralised policing over local efforts, and electronic surveillance over community work.
One winner is the NCA, which apparently now has 200 staff tracing people associated with alarms raised automatically by Big Tech’s content surveillance, while the losers include Britain’s 43 local police forces. If 80% of the people arrested as a result of Mr Biggar’s activities don’t even merit any jail time, then my conclusion is that the Treasury should cut his headcount by at least 160, and give each Chief Constable an extra 3-4 officers instead. Frontline cops agree that too much effort goes into image offences and not enough into the more serious contact crimes.
Mr Biggar argues that Facebook is wicked for turning on end-to-end encryption in Facebook Messenger, as won’t be able to catch as many bad men in future. But if encryption stops him wasting police time, well done Zuck! Mr Biggar also wants Parliament to increase the penalties. But even though Onan was struck dead by God for spilling his seed upon the ground, I hope we can have more rational priorities for criminal law enforcement in the 21st century.