Home Office cannot find £1.3m to fund e-crime unit

Plans to create a national police unit to fight high-tech crime were delt a blow this week after the Home Office said it was unable to find £1.3m to fund the unit.

Plans to create a national police unit to fight high-tech crime were delt a blow this week after the Home Office said it was unable to find £1.3m to fund the unit.

Home Office minister Vernon Coakertold the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) that he did not have the cash to kick-start the national e-crime unit.

The news emerged following talks between Coaker and ACPO representatives Ian Johnson, head of the British Transport Police and DCI Charlie McMurdie, head of the Metropolitan Police force's e-crime unit she stepped down last Tuesday.

ACPO has been pressing the government for £1.3m as seed capital for a 45-strong national e-crime unit, which would be funded jointly by the private sector. ACPO said it hoped the cash would give the private sector the confidence to contribute towards the £4.5m cost of the unit.

The unit would replace the National High Tech Crime Unit (NHTCU), which acted as a central reporting point for e-crime until it was merged into the Serious Organised Crime Agency in 2006.

Acpo said it hoped that the government would still be able to find the money. "There was no cheque," McMurdie said, "but the government did seem to be warming to the idea."

A Home Office spokesperson said, "No decision has been taken on the formation of an e-crime unit." He said the government took e-crime seriously and would meet soon with law enforcement agencies to consider an overall approach to issues such as electronic fraud.

The lack of funding, however, has disappointed businesses.

The Institute of Directors said, "It is beyond belief that the Home Office should accord such a low priority to sorting out a sensible structure for the reporting and investigation of e-crime.

"This area has been blighted since the ill-conceived destruction of the well-respected, effective and high-profile National Hi-Tech Crime Unit during the creation of the Serious Organised Crime Agency."

The British Bankers' Association said the lack of funding was a worrying sign of the priority government was giving to fighting financial crime. "As more and more people go online, this problem is going to grow, and e-crime is often part of a more serious crime such as drugs and terrorism."

PricewaterhouseCoopers has just completed the 2008 survey on information security breaches for the Department of Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform. Report author Chris Potter said, "The lack of co-ordination by police means e-criminals can continue getting away with it."

The news comes amid growing concerns over the impact of computer crime on businesses and the willingness of the public to buy goods and share personal details online.

Reports from the Information Commissioner's Office show that three-quarters of Britons now worry more about the safety of their personal information. Figures released last week by Apacs, the UK payments association, show phone, internet and mail-order fraud up 37%.

Research by the Met's e-crime unit has revealed weekly attacks on more than 100 UK companies from the same UK-based server. It estimates that there are hundreds of servers outside the UK aimed at UK firms.

The idea of a national unit to fight e-crime has its origin in the National Hi-Tech Crime Unit set up on 18 April 2001. This unit was disbanded and mostly absorbed into the Serious Organised Crime Agency on 1 April 2006.

Regional police forces under Acpo contributed £1.3m to fund a pilot scheme and prepare the business case for a full-blown unit following the closure of the NHTCU. This funding stopped due to Home Office cut-backs.

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