Policing in the digital age will face a turning point in the next two years, according to City of London Police commissioner Adrian Leppard (pictured).
“The issue of policing in the digital age will reach a watershed of fundamentally restructuring the service offering of policing to society,” he told a briefing hosted by the security and resilience network of the business membership organisation London First.
“Frankly, the scale of policing in the digital age is very poor at the moment – we do not have a good policing presence in cyber space, where so much crime is taking place,” he said.
Leppard added that to fulfil the fundamental mission of protecting society, police will have to change the model for the way they work with society, especially in the light of coming budget cuts.
“That means looking differently at how we resource the police and provide services nationally, and it will be this area of digital challenge that will provoke that change,” he said.
One of the main challenges in the digital age is that as internet crime increases exponentially, government and policing do not have clear visibility of the scale.
According to Leppard, economic crime accounts for around £50bn in losses a year, but only about 20% of that is being reported to the police.
“This means the government and policing does not have sight of the scale of economic crime, and is therefore unable to take the steps necessary to protect society – so it is important to improve the level and standard of crime reporting in the UK,” he said.
Government investment not enough
Police capacity is another enormous challenge. According to Leppard, even though only 20% of online economic crime is reported, UK police have the capacity to address only 20% of that.
He said that with government investing £850m in cyber security, there is not much more it can be asked to do, and yet that will not be enough.
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“Society is going to get protected only through the infrastructure of private sector and industry," said Leppard. "It is big challenge for us in policing to think this through and say that the traditional enforcement is not going to solve the problem.”
Leppard believes there needs to be a much bigger emphasis on crime prevention. “This means working with the financial sector and every other sector that works with society in the internet space, and understanding how we can make it secure,” he said.
For example, Leppard said the UK cyber insurance industry is exploring ways of helping improve cyber crime prevention by pushing information security standards into every industry.
“We have the opportunity with our expertise in financial services and our lead role in economic crime in London to become a global leader in cyber insurance and create gross domestic product growth at the same time as helping society to protect itself,” he said.
Ultimately, said Leppard, IT providers, internet service providers and financial services are at the heart of getting the private sector to help improve cyber crime prevention.
“I do not think UK policing has really grappled with this in an industrialised government manner that can really get hold of every sector and work with them cohesively. We have done it only in bits and pieces so far,” he said.
Policing cannot tackle cyber crime alone
In coming to grips with the private sector, Leppard believes policing cannot do it alone and that government has a role in harnessing the public and private sector in the common mission of protecting society.
According to Leppard, in just about every case, police are swamped with terabytes of data, and he believes that they will soon be unable to carry on the way they are.
“We have got to think fundamentally differently about how we present evidence, about how we interrogate technology,” he said.
Leppard said that that private sector can help, not by providing services at a cheaper rate than law enforcement can, but by finding a new business model that improves client profitability and serves society at the same time.
He believes that a potential solution is for private sector companies to provide services such as digital forensics that make money for other clients who will be willing to pay for those services, but that are also services that are vital to policing.
The government also has a role to play in providing legislation to enable a different way of working to ensure that encryption does not continue to be the big problem for law enforcement, said Leppard.
“Our powers in digital communication in particular are vitally important to protect society, and we are on the verge of losing vital ground if the government does not take action,” he said.