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Wednesday, July 22, 1998 Published at 21:47 GMT 22:47 UK


Fears about Internet crime

The level of crime committed on the Internet is unknown, said Mr Hamilton

The true extent of burgeoning crime on the Internet is unknown, a senior Scottish police chief has warned.

But fearing a growing problem, the Chief Constable of Fife, John Hamilton, has called for more specialist police officers trained to tackle Web crime.

Writing in this month's edition of 'The Journal', the magazine of The Law Society of Scotland, he warned that differences between national laws mean some countries could become havens for computer criminals.

He said: "Bearing in mind the enormity of the problem it is essential that we match the skills of the criminal, or preferably are one step ahead."

[ image: Differing national laws could provide safe havens for computer criminals]
Differing national laws could provide safe havens for computer criminals
Mr Hamilton, a former RUC officer, is one of Britain's foremost experts on organised crime and drugs, and was a deputy director general of the National Criminal Intelligence Service before moving to Fife.

Mr Hamilton said it is already well known that computer crime covers copyright offences, fraud, and pornography, particularly involving paedophiles.

He said: "While we know many of the demonstrable problems and likely future threats, the level of crime committed by virtue of the ability to interconnect computers is virtually unknown.

"Given the nature of the Internet, there are few reliable and no comprehensive measures of the true extent of criminality or its potential for harm."

Law enforcement agencies must continually review their capability to deal with computer threats, he said.

He said: "We do not know how criminals will use the technology to benefit from opportunities to commit old crimes in a new way, and new crimes.

"Nor do we know if the faster, more sophisticated and secure communication methods used by them will thwart traditional policing techniques."

The article goes on to consider how computer crime creates a particular difficulty to traditional policing because offender, victim and the place where the crime is committed can be in different continents.

[ image: Police need to be one step ahead of Internet criminals]
Police need to be one step ahead of Internet criminals
Mr Hamilton said: "The nature of the Internet might make the identity of the offender or the location of an offence difficult to establish.

"Legislative differences between countries may result in variations in the severity of the crime, with countries that are less strict used as safe storage havens."

Children using the Internet must be carefully supervised to protect them from "the dubious activities of unscrupulous people."

Police forces could have to "buy-in" expertise and develop a policy of recruiting informants and infiltrating paedophile and hacker organisations.

Mr Hamilton also called for the establishment of a Central National Investigative Unit.

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