E-crime: Does the government care?

Dealing with electronic crime can be hard work at the best of times. But now business leaders are accusing the UK government of underestimating the risks, potentially leaving businesses exposed because law enforcers lack the resources needed to tackle the problem.

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) wants to raise national awareness of e-crime and has called for the Prime Minister to make a public commitment to tackling the issue. The call comes amid growing unease about the re-organisation of e-crime law enforcement.

When the National High Tech Crime Unit (NHTCU) was absorbed into the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) in 2006, some businesses expressed concern that there would no longer be a single point of call for all electronic crime reporting and resolution. At the time, though, most pledged to wait and see how SOCA fared.

More than a year later, there is growing unease among the business community. By moving the once-highly visible NHTCU with the far-larger and more opaque e-crime unit of SOCA, some argue, the UK government has impaired the ability of British businesses to collaborate and co-operate in fighting electronic crime – widely recognised as the key to tackling the issue.

“With the NHTCU there was at least a single point of contact for us to work with, and we did do a lot of work on joint initiatives,” says the spokesperson for Apacs, the UK trade association for payment processing providers.

As part of the e-crime re-organisation, the Metropolitan Police established its own e-crime division, details of which began to emerge in July. The unit is to be staffed by 45 officers and has a budget of just £4.5 million – less than a fifth of the budget committed to the NHCTU when it was established.

SOCA was approached to comment on the business community’s concerns, but declined the opportunity.

The experts' response…

Ollie Ross, head of research for the Corporate IT Forum, believes Britain needs a dedicated e-crime fighting force.

I don’t think the government takes electronic crime as seriously as other high impact crimes. It feels as though they consider large organisations big enough and bad enough to handle it themselves. They don’t understand it’s a crime against the customer as well as the business.

E-crime is now an international business. Somebody has to take an overarching view, and we need a joint reporting and resolution body. If the only way to report electronic crime is through individual channels it will take a long time for anything to be done.

Robert Bond, head of IP, technology and commercial at law firm Speechly Bircham, says SOCA must be more communicative.

When we worked with NHTCU they were extremely helpful, albeit under-funded. It was very useful to have one place for businesses to go to for guidance. The great thing about the NHTCU was that they were positively reaching out. SOCA doesn’t seem to be doing that, and businesses are left on their own. 

Maybe the problem is that now, because e-crime is so big, there is an assumption that every business knows what to do about it. The truth is that many big businesses are still relatively unaware of how serious it is, and how to deal with it.

Pete Swabey

Pete Swabey

Pete was Editor of Information Age and head of technology research for Vitesse Media plc from 2005 to 2013, before moving on to be Senior Editor and then Editorial Director at The Economist Intelligence...

Related Topics