Police Figures Cite Cybercrime, Digital Data As Top Concern

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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An exponential surge in data and a decentralised structure are making cyber-policing increasingly difficult

Senior police figures have highlighted the risks posed by cybercrime and an exponential surge in digital information as their biggest concern.

In a hearing before Parliament’s home affairs select committee, Metropolitan Police commissioner Cressida Dick, director general of the National Crime Agency Lynne Owens and National Police Chiefs’ Council chair Sara Thornton all cited digital issues as a top challenge for police.

Dick said the amount of data the Met deals with doubles every 18 months, and said officers struggled with the extra workload.

It wasn’t unusual for 18 officers to work 200 hours over a weekend to examine Facebook accounts to ensure disclosure fairness for a trial, she said.

police handcuff security crime keyboard © Oleksiy Mark ShutterstockData surge

Dick said she was “deeply concerned about the exponential rise in digital data and the impact that is having”.

Police have said about 90 percent of crime now has a digital element, meaning increases in the amounts of data authorities must deal with.

She said police technologies such as face recognition could be controversial, and that it was “a challenge” for police to keep up with the quickly changing “ethical and legal issues”  around these tools “in the absence of ethical discussions and legal frameworks”.

Dick, Owens and Thornton all said the organisation of English and Welsh policing into 43 separate forces hampered coordination on national issues such as  cybercrime and fraud.

National coordination

Owens said there needed to be a national assessment centre to coordinate technologically enabled crimes, which were beyond the scope of local forces.

Thornton said only one in three UK forces are able to handle technological crimes such as denial of service attacks, malware and online fraud.

She said work “has been drawn up” to create cyber units within forces, with agreements in place with the National Crime Agency on the possible structure for such an organisation.

But she added this was “still a work in progress”.

The National Crime Agency recently warned of rising UK cybercrime, saying encryption was making law-enforcement more difficult.