The European Commission has proposed a new division of the European police agency Europol focused on cyber crime.
Depending on parilamentary approval, the European Cybercrime Centre in due to be based in the Netherlands and to begin operations in January 2013.
Europol already has a cyber crime division but the new centre will improve collaboration between polices forces, government organisations and businesses in the fight against electronic crime, the agency said.
"The European Cybercrime Centre will provide a more collaborative response in cooperation with: key EU stakeholders; non-EU countries; international organisations; internet governance bodies and service providers; companies involved in internet security and the financial sector; academic experts; civil society organisations; and National Computer Emergency Response Teams (CERTs) and the CERT-EU for European Union institutions," Europol said in a statement.
Europol director Rob Wainright said that the new watchdog would be a "landmark development in the EU’s fight against cybercrime".
The European commissioner for home affairs Cecilia Malmstrom presented the proposal in Brussels on Wednesday, saying that the growth of organised crime was tracking the rise in use of online services. "We can’t let cybercriminals disrupt our digital lives," she said.
The EC said that cybercrime is increasing in Europe, specifically mentioning online ID theft, sexual exploitation of children, and direct attacks public and private IT systems.
It cited a recent report from security software vendor Symantec which estimates that cybercrime costs €290 billion a year worldwide, as well as a Belgian Financial Crime division study which found that computer fraud almost doubled in Belgium between 2008 and 2010.
Troels Oerting, assistant director Europol’s cyber crime division, said at a conference in London last year that sharing information is contrary to the dominant culture in most European police forces. “The culture is to protect your own know-how and knowledge – it’s my informant, my information and I will not share it, not even with a colleague in another district,” he said.
He added that regional data protection laws make sharing data problematic. "In Germany, the police can keep information from the Internet for seven days,” he said. “But if we need to access a German server to identify who has been dealing with, say, child pornography, I can guarantee you that it will take more than seven days.”
However, Oerting added that rapid information sharing is essential in combating cyber crime. “In the online world, we need a whole new speed and a whole new level of reaction."