Chief police officers are drawing up proposals for the creation of a new national police unit to coordinate the investigation and reporting of computer crime across the UK's 43 police forces.
The plan follows an outcry from businesses earlier this year over the closure of the National High Tech Crime Unit (NHTCU), leaving a potentially serious gap in high-tech policing.
The new unit, if approved by the Home Office, will draw on specialist resources in local police forces and business to collate and investigate high-tech crime and advise businesses on security measures.
The proposal is part of a national computer crime strategy under development by the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) to raise the UK's capability in policing computer crime.
"There is real potential in a unit like that," said Sue Wilkinson, ACPO lead on e-crime, in her first interview in the role.
"I think the NHTCU had a valuable role. It was pretty high profile, everybody knew about it, it was contactable."
The ACPO strategy aims to make better use of existing computer crime units across the UK by raising local expertise and pooling resources across police forces.
ACPO is conducting a capability assessment exercise over the next few months that will identify what computer expertise each force has. For example, some forces have expertise in covert internet surveillance, others in telecoms.
"One of the most important things is that every force is aware of where it can go to get specialist support in any particular area. That is what we are working on. I would not demand that every force has a particular model of computer crime unit," said Wilkinson.
ACPO also plans to encourage police forces to draw on the expertise of private sector information security specialists to act as special constables.
The Metropolitan Police computer crime unit is pioneering the approach with a database of 50 special constables with IT expertise, and is looking at plans to draw on other private sector security experts to advise businesses.
"We hope that this is an idea that will spread because it has tremendous potential," said Wilkinson.
Irrespective of whether the Home Office backs a replacement for the NHTCU, the ACPO strategy could have a significant impact on high-tech crime, Wilkinson said.
"If there is no money and no support for [a new unit] we can still make a huge impact in terms of coordination through what we are doing with our national strategy."
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