E-crime unit funding inadequate, say businesses

UK business is concerned that funding for the Police Central e-crime Unit (PCeU) is inadequate to ensure it succeeds where its predecessor failed.

UK business is concerned that funding for the Police Central e-crime Unit (PCeU) is inadequate to ensure it succeeds where its predecessor failed.

After several delays, just over £7m has been allocated to the unit, with £3.5m from the government and £3.9m from the Metropolitan Police.

This is a fraction of the £25m intitial funding provided for the operation it replaced, the National High-Tech Crime Unit (NHTCU), which was set up in 2001 and disbanded two years ago.

David Roberts, CEO at The Corporate IT Forum, says it is a very small sum for a very large problem. "We doubt it will be enough to tackle an issue the Home Office itself calls a global menace," he says.

Online banking fraud alone cost over £21m in the first six months of this year according to the latest figures from the UK payments industry association, Apacs.

Lawrence Kaye, chair at the Society for Computers and Law internet interest group, says, "We welcome the news, but do not feel the current level of funding properly reflects the social threat posed by e-crime."

Since 2006, responsibility for computer-related crime has been shared by local police forces and the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA).

As a result, there has been a lack of police resources to fight day-to-day computer-related crime and no easy way for business and members of the public to report crimes like online fraud.

These are problems the new PCeU is designed to tackle, according to unit head, Detective Superintendent Charlie McMurdie. She says the funding is only part of what is required to make PCeU work and the unit needs help from the IT industry.

"I know what we are trying to deliver and who has the appropriate skills in industry that we are going to try to bring in to work with us," she says.

Support from industry partners is key to the PCeU's success, says Philip Virgo, Eurim secretary general. "This is more important than the scale of funding from government," he says.

Virgo says private sector funding should not be a problem, considering the UK is spending over £3bn a year on information security. "Giving 10% of that budget in resources and cash to help police take out the criminals would make good business sense," he says.

But the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) says any partnership with industry has to be a two-way street.

"It will need to be a co-operative approach that takes businesses' concerns on board," says Jeremy Beale, head of knowledge content at the CBI.

Virgo says the role of the PCeU as a central hub for co-ordinating cross-force initiatives could make a very big difference.

Peter Sommer, professor at the London School of Economics, says he is very keen to see the PCeU succeed, but says successful co-ordination of efforts may be difficult.

He says there could be squabbling over territory between agencies covering different aspects of e-crime, but McMurdie is confident this will not happen.

"The last thing we want to do is duplicate effort, so a lot of work in putting the business case forward was in mapping out roles to ensure we will not be treading on each other's toes," she says.

The plan, everyone agrees, appears to be sound. Whether or not it will work remains to be seen. What is clear is that it relies heavily on the support of the private sector.

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