The unit, based at Cumbria Constabulary headquarters, near Penrith, is up-and-running following a pledge by Peter McCall to increase funding to fight cyber crime. This followed a rise - backed by the majority of the public who were surveyed last year - in the police precept of the council tax bill in Cumbria, the part that pays for policing. Newly recruited staff and officers who are experts in their field have taken up positions in the Cyber and Digital Crime Unit.
The unit delivers an improved force-level capability to investigate and pursue offenders and help businesses and people protect themselves from attack. Crimes tackled by the unit include online sex crimes such as sharing, viewing and downloading indecent images, including where there is sexual abuse of a child. It covers offences such as hacking, digital fraud and online exploitation.
The unit also forensically examines digital devices seized during police investigations. Behind the scenes, these types of crimes can involve long and complex investigations, including detailed examination of digital equipment. Offenders often do not live in county boundaries, providing a new challenge to police. With changes in society and technology, the number of these types of crimes continue to grow — so the unit are placed to deal with an increasing problem.
National referrals of this type of crime have risen massively in the past five years and these are often passed to local forces.
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Policing faces serious challenges as well as opportunities from the impact of technology and the globalisation that it has enabled. Cybercrime, for example, now causes the UK more economic damage arguably than all other forms of crime combined. Cross-border crime is also on the rise and even for domestic crimes there is often a demand for data and potential evidence held in other jurisdictions, sometimes by states but often by international technology service providers.
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Bad actors are early adopters and can take an experimental approach to new technologies to see if they bring advantages. Terrorists are able to use Internet technologies for reconnaissance, communications and proselytising. Looking further into the future, technology may yet have even more disruptive effects on the nature of crime and the tools for combatting it. For example, machine learning over large scale data sets may make it easier for police forces to identify criminals and potential criminals.
The Future of Policing in the Digital Age
At the same time, traditional crime has not gone away. Gang crime continues to blight deprived areas. Traditional drug smuggling and sales remain profitable. Violent street crime, rape, crimes against children and murder still have a terrible impact on both individuals and communities, resonating in the media.
The public expects the police to respect privacy and to be sensitive to the customs and concerns of different communities. High standards of professionalism are more essential than ever. This conference offered a rare opportunity to look up from everyday pressures in order to try to identify some strategic landmarks on the journey to the future of policing in liberal democracies. Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick chaired an extraordinary group that included First Deputy Police Commissioner New York, Ben Tucker, and other senior law enforcement officers from both sides of the Atlantic, Singapore and Pakistan; the chair of the Intelligence and Security committee; the Director of Liberty; the Deputy Mayor of London for Policing and Crime; a district attorney; technology entrepreneurs; influential journalists; HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary; academic experts; and talented young researchers.
In some ways, the challenges and principles of policing are unchanged; in others, policing is changing very quickly. The cooperation of the public is diminished by the use of force and compulsion. On the other hand, the police must rapidly become a more technologically adept and driven service, if is to cope with a fast evolution of crime that includes the experimental and early adoption of technology by criminals; its increasingly international nature; the explosion in the quantity of available evidence; the difficulty, notwithstanding, of obtaining key parts of the data picture from technology service providers; and the increasingly full spectrum of both terrorism and cyber threats from amateur adolescents to major state sponsorship.
The challenge for the police is to manage this technological transformation without losing its intimate connection to the people. The encryption of information on devices is a growing and urgent problem for the police and this is of especial concern in the US. Particular technology companies were seen by most US law enforcement officials as pursuing commercial interests under the guise of the protection of privacy and cyber security. The police wanted not a back door into encrypted systems but a front door, opened by judge-approved warrant, as is normal in other areas of those societies governed by the rule of law.
It was seen as unacceptable that investigations of serious domestic crimes such as murder, as well as terrorism investigations, could be blocked by lack of access to information on encrypted devices. The police would explore all legal means to increase political and moral pressure on the technology companies to change their approach. There was a marked breakdown of trust in the motives of the leadership of the companies.
It was unrealistic of the companies to think that there could be a model that could work in both rule of law societies and authoritarian societies such as China. There was a general expectation in the group that legislation would have to force the companies to change their approach and that this would soon be politically achievable.
Whilst the difficulty of getting access to evidence at the heart of crimes was real, there was also the problem of a vast abundance of data — social media, video and other sources — that might contain vital evidence if only it could be discovered. Progress had been made on processing video footage in particular — the FBI now worked through several times as much footage in a week as it had for the entire Boston marathon bombing investigation, at the time an unprecedented exercise.
But it was getting harder and harder to be sure that all material relevant to an investigation had been reviewed and disclosed.
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The police had big data but not yet the analytics and skills to make the most of it. The legal framework might need amending to take account of the increasingly probabilistic nature of investigation and disclosure exercises. As well as coping with ethnic, religious and cultural diversity, the police increasingly have to cope with self-made communities reinforced by living in a social media echo chamber. These communities are evolving specific forms of crime, sometimes hidden within the closed community.
Disputes played out on social media often transfer into the physical world, through inter-gang violence for example. Terrorism see below is also evolving in this direction with online radicalisation leading directly to real world acts of violence. Meanwhile, victims of crime in the physical world can also be pursued and harassed online, leaving nowhere to hide. This re-tribalisation reinforces another somewhat surprising trend of the 21st century, a strong localisation of crime. Most stabbings in London take place in a few areas. Geographically concentrated the violence may be, but it is also on the rise.
The police must strike a difficult balance, focusing resources to prevent crime without alienating communities where postcodes are often a proxy for race and religion. Neighbourhood policing is more important than ever. Contrasting and combining with the local nature of much crime is an increasingly strong international element.
Whereas once immigrant communities would have been cut off from their home countries, now technology enables minute-by-minute vibrant communication and business links. Data and thus evidence is stored in servers based abroad. Police forces need increasingly strong links abroad to tackle even the most local of crimes. As other government departments cut back on staff, consolidate offices, consolidate hospitals and move business online, police officers are often the only visible representatives of government in daily life. The police spend a large part of their time dealing with social welfare and mental health issues.
With the closure of many secure mental health facilities in particular, the prison service has become the biggest provider of mental health services in both the UK and the US. Cyber crime is a threat that will grow and grow. The use of AI to tailor attacks at scale is a particular concern.
Defences will increase in sophistication too, also relying on IT to spot attacks and to adapt defence in real time. Cyber crime demands a whole-society response ranging from education of the individual, through to greater responsibility and sharing of information by companies. The police cannot do it all and there may need to be new functions and departments of government, or perhaps third sector organisations. The police and companies will also need to be more open about the limits of what services can and cannot be secured and what crimes can and cannot be solved.
Frictionless digital services from companies are developing public expectations of government and the police that cannot be met , at least not unless the public is ready to sign away the remnants of its privacy. The police are rightly held to a higher standard on privacy because of their greater powers than any company. This limits what data and services the police can and should combine, even if it is able to master the technology.
The nature of the terrorist threat continues to evolve from a network into a radicalising movement. This poses particular challenges for the police, with individuals moving directly from online radicalisation to action. There is a large pool of extremists and near extremists, far too many to monitor in an open society. Which of these will reach the tipping point of action, and when, has a degree of quantum uncertainty about it which makes it hard to predict, no matter how full the data and how sophisticated the analytics.
Like cyber, counter terrorism CT is a team sport that demands the involvement of the whole of society, from communities through faith leaders to the media, as well as government. As well as prevention and pursuit, developing the resilience of societies to the tactics of fear is important. Community policing is central to CT.
The terrorist threat and counter terrorism funding is enabling police forces to aggregate data and increasingly to develop analytical capabilities. This promises a more predictive and targeted approach both to counter terrorism and to policing more generally. But respect for privacy needs to be designed into the system if it is not to lose public confidence.
Chapter 5: How well are the police training their officers in digital crime?
The use of machine learning off the back of this aggregated data offers the best chance for the police to make the most of thin resources against a wide range of demands. But there must be graded intrusion into privacy depending on the seriousness of the crime. For the police there is a tension between public trust and predictability of this intrusion — the public needs to know broadly what the police can and will not do and to accept that this is proportionate.
There is a real risk of algorithmic bias from skewed data sets that will need oversight to maintain public confidence. The public, politicians and the police need a better understanding of how AI is improved through use, rather than being a capability that operates effectively from the outset. Methods of procurement and the implementation of technology will likely need to change. Whether expressed through the trend for body-borne cameras, public engagement in governance or oversight bodies and enquiries, there is less and less tolerance from society of secrecy by the arms of government.
The police must expect to have to work more and more in the open and be subject to challenge. The police should take heart that, although subject to criticism, they are one of the best respected parts of society and government, for example with approval rates of 52 percent in the US compared to 9 percent for Congress. In the UK community, tensions tend to be conveyed through discussion of crime trends in particular parts of the city or country.