The Tory Home Secretary likes to crow about highly questionable crime statistics that imply crime is falling, but in reality crime is changing; it’s moving online while the Government’s approach is stuck in the past. If the Government’s crime statistics included online fraud they would show a 50% increase overall. Criminals know that, thanks to Government inaction, it’s easier to steal from people online because the chances of detection and prosecution are far lower.
The growth in child abuse online has been staggering. 70,000 child abuse images were shared on the internet last year and six out of every ten children have been asked to share indecent images of themselves. There’s been a similarly dramatic growth in cybercrime with online banking fraud up 71% in Britain alone in just a year and over half of all UK internet users have been exposed to it.
Countless individuals have lost thousands of pounds with scams that include paying for cars or other goods that don’t exist, donating to fake charities, fake foreign lotteries, identity theft, or falling prey to confidence tricksters on dating sites. In these and many other cases most people never see their money again. The impact of losing all your savings in an online sting is every bit as agonising for victims as having property stolen from their home, yet the Crime Prevention Minister Lynne Featherstone complacently admits this form of crime has been a “lesser interest” for the Government.
Banks reimburse some of your losses if fraudsters hack into your computer and access your bank account or credit card details. But we all pay for this collectively with higher business insurance costs passed on to every consumer in higher prices. Ever-growing rates of online crime deter many people from buying online at all, and that will have an increasingly negative impact on economic growth.
The Government’s response has been woeful. Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) found that just 2% of police officers were trained to investigate cybercrime and that only three out of 43 police forces even had a strategy to deal with it. The Government’s national cybercrime unit Action Fraud is so under-resourced that most crimes reported to it are never investigated.
The fall in high-volume acquisitive crime since the mid-1990s across the industrialised world was largely the result of improvements in crime-prevention technology like burglar alarms or car immobilisers which made things harder to steal. Making crime more difficult plays a major part in cutting it. The same approach can help us fight cybercrime. Countries like Australia and the US are leading the way with codes of practice for internet service providers which alert users when their computer has been compromised so they can take action, but Britain under the Tories lags far behind.
Labour will get tough on online crime, that’s why we’ve proposed a Teach First-style scheme to recruit the brightest and best IT graduates to work with the police to outpace the criminals and make the internet safer. We will demand that every police force has a cybercrime strategy in place and properly trains their officers to understand and prevent online crime. We will refocus existing resources to beef up specialist cyber-crime teams and strengthen cross-border collaboration to tackle this rapidly growing form of criminal activity.
There are new ways to personalise protection too. Open source data allows communities to scrutinise the performance of public services such as the police and help to develop new ways to tackle problems such as a crime. How about a crime prevention app for mobile phones? It could alert you to any increase in robberies, assault or burglaries in the places you live, work, socialise or travel and advise you on how to stay safe. You could use it to contact your local police team for information or to report crime, alert authorities of anything that makes you fearful of crime, access local crime data, compare the performance of your police force with others, or track what happens to offenders after prosecution. Giving people a better understanding of the criminal justice system and new ways to influence it helps build public confidence. Very few people attend their local police team meetings, but data from a widely-used app could help identify the public’s local crime priorities.
The government has a responsibility to make the internet safe for everyone who uses it and to harness digital technology to improve community safety for everyone online or off line. That means a properly resourced and trained police force and action to make it harder for criminals to operate online and bring to justice those who do. The Tories have refused to recognise that crime is changing, that’s why it’s Labour that today’s criminals fear the most.