UK National Cyber Crime Unit in October; Communications Data Bill confirmed

Much of the speech would have been of little interest to his direct IT audience, but was used, as happens in all such political speeches, to talk to the wider population. He outlined the threat in broad terms and highlighted some of law enforcement’s recent successes against cyber crime.

Three items of particular relevance emerged. The first is that the planned new National Cyber Crime Unit, born from an amalgamation of the Met’s Police Central e-Crime Unit and the Serious Organised Crime Unit (SOCA) is on course for an official launch in October. “At the heart of our vision for how we can tackle cyber crime more effectively,” said Brokenshire, “is the National Cyber Crime Unit.” He said that it has been operational in ‘shadow’ form since the beginning of March, and that co-operation between the PCeU and SOCA is already having effect. 

“This joint working,” he explained, “has already led to arrests against those involved in a phishing scam against the UK banking system and its customers, and a criminal network, linked to established UK organised crime groups, concentrated on high value fraud on both UK and international corporate victims.”

A second feature was an apparent about-turn in government thinking on an international cyber crime treaty. Last year the Foreign Secretary William Hague called for just that. Brokenshire’s thinking is that the existing Budapest Convention is as good as we’re likely to get. “We do not believe that any new treaty would be any more effective,” he announced. 

It is also noticeable that the threats outlined by Brokenshire are almost entirely ‘criminal’ rather than state-sponsored – there was no Chinese-threat rhetoric like that currently in the US. In fact, neither ‘China’ nor ‘Chinese’ appear in the speech at all; and the direct terrorist threat is downplayed: “To date, terrorists have not seen cyber-attack as an important means of conducting their actions,” but he pointedly added, “we and other governments are very mindful of the fact that this could change.”

This provided the perfect introduction to the third feature: the Communications Data Bill. This proposed bill has been roundly criticized by civil rights activists – and many members of parliament. It has been dubbed a ‘Snoopers’ Charter’; so Brokenshire prepared his ground with, “we must ensure that improved security and tackling terrorist threats does not come at the expense of human rights. Our threshold is therefore high, ensuring that freedom of expression and speech are not compromised.”

But the Communications Data Bill will proceed. “We remain committed to introducing the Bill at the earliest possible opportunity.” He explained that it is “about who was communicating, when, from where, how and with whom; it is the context but not the content of a communication;” and that it “is a vital tool” that “enables the police to build a picture of the activities, contacts and whereabouts of a person who is under investigation.” 

It is unlikely that activists will be convinced. Last month, based on the information that the Communications Data Bill will provide to law enforcement, “it was revealed Parliamentarians have been visiting an ‘adulterous affairs’ website more times in a single month than the official websites for the Treasury, Ministry of Justice and Department for Education. That’s 52,000 hits in seven months for ‘Out of Town Affairs’,” reported Big Brother Watch. This is used to highlight the problems with the Communications Data Bill – the IP address doesn’t specify which parliamentarians are ‘guilty’, so implicates all; but at the same time the communications data specifies the content: “it’s still pretty obvious what you’ve been doing!”

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