IT experts petition Number 10 for specialist e-crime unit

Prominent IT and security experts have launched a petition calling on prime minister Gordon Brown to set up a police central e-crime unit as an “urgent priority”.


Prominent IT and security experts have launched a petition calling on prime minister Gordon Brown to set up a police central e-crime unit as an “urgent priority”.

The online petition on the Number 10 website follows the loss of 25 million people’s records by HM Revenue and Customs in Britain’s biggest ever data security breach.

Until last year, there was a national police organisation dedicated on fighting computer crime - the National High-Tech Crime Unit – but this was closed and its work transferred to the more generally focused Serious Organised Crime Agency, prompting concern from businesses.

The HMRC debacle makes the creation of “a well resourced operation” dedicated to tackling computer-assisted crime a matter of great urgency, the petitioners say, noting that both the Metropolitan Police and the Association of Chief Police Officers have called for a central e-crime organisation.

A supporting statement defines computer assisted crime widely, to include the theft of information and identities from data and call centres, “not just the use of the internet to automate old crimes and invent new ones”.

An initial list of signatories to the petition includes: Philip Virgo, director general of the Eurim parliament-industry IT group; Oxford University visiting professor of software engineering Martyn Thomas; Andrew Yeomans, vice-president of global information security at the Dresdner Kleinwort investment bank; and Neil Stinchcombe of Infosecurity Europe.

Virgo told Computerworld UK: “I am not a great one for signing petitions myself but I think I will be signing this one, alongside most of the chief information security officers who attended the meeting at which Scotland Yard briefed us on the plans some months ago.”

Also among the signatories is Lord Toby Harris, who chairs the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Policing and is treasurer of the Parliamentary Information Technology Committee (Pitcom). He was also a member of the House of Lords science and technology committee that investigated personal internet security earlier this year.

Last month, the science and technology committee accused ministers of “putting their heads in the sand” over online crime and personal data security, after the government rejected a series of recommendations to tackle e-crime, including a centralised monitoring unit, arising from the committee’s inquiry.

The petitioners say a new centralised police operation should have a remit in line with that proposed to the Home Office by the Metropolitan Police, including the collation of incident notification and intelligence.

It must be “on a scale akin to similar operations” in the US, funded not just from police budgets but with additional resources from government and industry, the petitioners say.

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