Cyber-dependent and cyber-enabled crimes are a top issue for UK police, a Home Affairs Committee has been told by senior police figures – and at present, UK police are not properly equipped to tackle them.
As part of the the ‘Policing for the future’ inquiry, chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council Sara Thornton, Metropolitan Police commissioner Cressida Dick, and director general of the National Crime Agency Lynne Owens, all highlighted the threat posed by cybercrime.
All three had positive things to say about developments in policing. Owens drew attention to the increase in arrests over offences of child sexual abuse, and both Dick and Thornton were confident in the police’s involvement in counterterrorism efforts. However, all three said that fast-paced change in ‘cyber’ and data-driven areas were their primary concerns, with privacy, AI and facial recognition, and police’s lack of training to deal with cybercrime all being mentioned.
It needs investment, it needs the right powers, and it needs the right public consent, but at its heart, absolutely, we have to stop technology being an enabler of crime. We have a responsibility there, but so do the technical companies.
– Lynne Owens, Director General, National Crime Agency
Emphasising the need for training, Thornton discussed research which indicated that only about a third of forces had “a proper capability” to deal with cyber-dependent and cyber-enabled crimes. She discussed plans in collaboration with the NCA, which have been under discussion since last October, to build cyber units within forces; however, she emphasised that: “It is not that we do not have a plan—we do have some plans—but it is very much work in progress.”
She also argued strongly, as did Owens, that tech companies and social media websites needed to take more responsibility for preventing online crimes, particularly with regards to the sexual exploitation of children online. She included the suggestion of ‘kitemarks’ for identity verification purposes, to ensure that “46 year-old men cannot masquerade as 13 year-old boys”, and the potential use of AI and machine learning in detecting deceptions of this kind.
This is likely in significant part due to the fact that the quantities of data which require analysis by the police are growing exponentially – much faster than the police are able to keep up with without AI and machine learning capabilities of their own.
Dick stressed the fact that the amount of data the Met needs to deal with doubles every 18 months, giving the example of a case where a question raised about information on a single Facebook account resulted in 18 officers being required to work 200 hours over a weekend. She emphasised that this was by no means an unusual occurrence.
All three also emphasised the role of technology, including increased police surveillance and access to locked accounts, in preventing non-cyber crimes such as rising knife crime levels.
“One of the things that the National Crime Agency should bring to the party is an ability to use intrusive covert techniques to understand how crime is being fuelled and enabled online,” said Owens. “It needs investment, it needs the right powers, and it needs the right public consent, but at its heart, absolutely, we have to stop technology being an enabler of crime. We have a responsibility there, but so do the technical companies.”
Dick added that police response needed to be improved across the clear net, deep net, and dark web, with the police’s current lack of dark web analytical capabilities being a particular concern for Owens.