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Monday, 13 November, 2000, 15:58 GMT
'Cyber cops' plan unveiled

Home Secretary Jack Straw has announced plans for a new specialist police unit to combat internet paedophiles, fraud and extortion rackets.

The 80-strong National Hi-Tech Crime Squad will be based in London but each regional force will be given at least one "cyber cop" to tackle internet crime in its area.

If business and industry goes electronic then organised crime will go electronic

Bob Packham, National Crime Squad
The new unit will also work to combat computer hackers and viruses, like the "I Love You" bug which wreaked havoc with systems last summer.

More than 60% of Britain's online businesses have been the victims of hacking, according to estimates.

But the full extent of the problem will not be known until the new squad starts work in April next year.

Undercover officers

The 25m unit will take its staff from police, customs, the National Crime Squad and the National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS).

Among the illegal sites uncovered by initial research include those offering trade in body parts and endangered species, both of which will be targeted by the new squad.

The squad is also expected to deploy undercover officers in internet chat rooms in an effort to trap paedophiles.

Offenders will be prosecuted under existing laws and the new Regulatory of Investigator Powers act.

Mr Straw said: "The government is committed to action against hi-tech crime in line with our objective of making the UK the best and safest place in the world to conduct and engage in e-commerce.

"Modern technologies such as the Internet offer up huge legitimate benefits, but also powerful opportunities for criminals, from those involved in financial fraud to the unlawful activities of paedophiles."

The funding is also expected to fulfil the UK's international commitments.

We must not let the net be exploited by criminals, con-men and perverts

Mark Castell, home office project manager

The cash will be used to help fund an international 24-hour hotline to trade information on cybercrime, she added.

"Driven by profit"

John Abbott, director general of the NCIS, said: "Tackling hi-tech crime is essential to maintaining public confidence.

"Cybercrime ignores borders, be they regional, national or international. Our approach therefore has to be holistic."

Bob Packham, deputy director general of the National Crime Squad, said: "We target organised criminals who are commodity driven. Their main motive is financial profit.

"If you look to the future, e-commerce is taking off and if business and industry goes electronic then organised crime will go electronic.

"We must keep one step ahead."

Project manager Mark Castell, who is helping to set up the new unit, said: "We must not let the net be exploited by criminals, con-men and perverts."

Mr Straw also announced further cash - 37m - to invest in a national management information system for police forces in England and Wales.

The new system will allow all information from the police to be compared and analysed across the country.

International treaty

Meanwhile, proposals for an international treaty on cybercrime are being redrafted after internet lobby groups branded them a threat to human rights.

The Council of Europe was inundated with angry e-mails after it posted the latest version of the proposed treaty on its web site.

Civil liberties activists and anti-censorship groups said the treaty, which proposes to make hacking a crime, would limit the freeflow of information on the net.

Campaigners say it also outlaw 'cracking' programmes that technicians use to test the security of systems.

The Strasbourg-based human rights watchdog, which has 41 member countries, has been working since May 1997 on a treaty to harmonise laws on cybercrime.

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See also:

19 Oct 00 | Sci/Tech
Cybercrime threat 'real and growing'
03 Jul 00 | Sci/Tech
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30 Jun 00 | Sci/Tech
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