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Government rejects chance to set up e-crime unit

No mention of new strategy in Communications Data Bill

The government has opted against pushing through a plan to set up a UK internet crime response unit, despite vowing to better police communications data in the interests of national security.

In the Communications Data Bill, part of draft legislation for the year, the government said it needed to react to technology developments including the growth in IP usage, and modify the ways in which it obtains and holds information passing over networks. But it made no mention of creating a police division that would focus on investigating and fighting online crime.

Home Office minister Vernon Coaker is still examining a business case from the Metropolitan Police for a £5.3m, 50-strong national police centre, which would require an initial investment of £1.3m, according to Computerworld UK. The case was submitted last year.

Downing Street said in the new Bill that it needed to "keep up" with new technology, in the interests of protecting national security and preventing crime. It also recommended that EU Directive 2006/24/EC, which regulates which authorities can hold data, become UK law.

"Communications data plays a key role in counter-terrorism investigations, the prevention and detection of crime and protecting the public," it said. "Unless the legislation is updated to reflect these [technology] changes, the ability of authorities to carry out their counter-terror, crime prevention and public safety duties and to counter these threats will be undermined."

The government also promised separately to reduce bureaucracy in the police force, and give local communities more say in policing, though no mention was made of tackling the difficulty police forces face in dealing with the fast growing number of reports they are receiving on internet crime.

The collection of draft legislation measures announced by the government this week has been called "Labour's fight back" by parts of the media, but is likely to disappoint sections of the IT community that have been clamouring for better policing of the internet.

In November, prominent IT and security experts launched a petition calling on prime minister Gordon Brown to set up a police central e-crime unit as an "urgent priority".

In spite of the influential Lords Science and Technology Committee accusing the government of turning its back on internet crime, the government's National Security Strategy made no mention of any dedicated e-crime unit, in spite of promises to tackle cyber crime.

Last month, Paul Simmonds, former chief information and security officer at chemicals firm ICI, blasted the government for only apportioning a tenth of the amount of money spent on drugs crime to that spent on internet crime. He said he hoped the government "sees sense" and dedicated resources to fighting internet crime.

The unit proposed by the Metropolitan Police would investigate and respond to online crime, ranging from small advance fee fraud to child abuse and terrorist activities.

Detective Superintendent Charlie McMurdie, who is heading up the calls for the unit, has said in the past that it was essential the UK caught up with other countries in this area.

The government said it would give more details on the new Bills later this year, and did not comment immediately on progress in its assessment of the proposed e-crime unit.


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