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London Cybercrime Unit

London Gets New Cybercrime Unit
By Becky Blue
 
Cybercrime is on the rise worldwide.  With technology advancing at a torrid pace, governments and police forces are struggling to keep up.  New, specialized police units dealing with cybercrime are springing up, and groups already in existence are expanding.  In London, Ontario, a specialized cybercrimes policing unit will soon be launched.  Read about how and why this unit is important to the city.

The London Police Service will have new crime-fighting tools at their disposal when they institute a cybercrimes unit by April 2007. This unit is part of London's response to the growing cybercrime problem worldwide.

Increased funding from both the city and the province has allowed the creation of the unit - with both parties recognizing there was a deficit that needed to be addressed, said police spokesperson Amanda Pfeffer.

"There has always been the need for investigators that can conduct cybercrime-related investigations just because of the expanse of the Internet," said Pfeffer. "It takes a great deal of investigative resources, including hours spent to conduct the investigation, and at the uniformed level, the officers just don't have that kind of time."
 
The new unit will be under the umbrella of the Criminal Investigations Division and Sexual Assault Section. There will be three officers working full-time in the division.

And while Pfeffer said that a good chunk of the funding for the unit itself is coming from the City of London, the provincial government has also chipped in with money earmarked specifically for the hiring of new officers.

Safer Communities - 1,000 New Officers
 
In 2003, the provincial Liberal government implemented its Safer Communities  - 1,000 Officers Partnership Program. The Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services has been tracking the progress of the program through a series of press releases - the latest one dated Nov. 30, 2006.  The initiative sees the government transfer $37.1 million annually to municipalities across the province to help them hire and maintain new officers - 1,000 in total.

London Police Headquarters

In London, this translates into 40 new officers, all of whom are already working.  London received its first installment of the funding -$618,247.80 - from Community Safety and Correctional Services Minister Monte Kwinter on July 27, 2006.

Local Liberal MPP Deb Matthews helped announce the program to Londoners. She explained that the new officers are being hired with priority areas in mind.

"Some areas of priority are determined by the local forces," she said, "but others are what the province thinks we really need to target."

One of those areas is protecting children from Internet luring and child pornography.

And with 40 new officers in place, the London Police Service was able to shift officers to the cybercrimes unit to address Internet crimes directly.
   
A Growing Problem

Specific statistics on cybercrimes in Canada are hard to come by. A 2002 Statistics Canada study on cybercrime issues called Cyber-Crime: Issues, Data Sources, and Feasibility of Collecting Police-Reported Statistics suggests that authorities are behind in collecting data because there is still no formal definition of cybercrime.

The study defines a cybercrime as "a criminal offence involving a computer as the object of the crime, or the tool used to commit a material component of the offence." But it also notes that many police forces don't differentiate between fraud committed over the phone, and fraud committed over the Internet. Both crimes end up in the same statistical pool, thereby making statistics on Internet crime difficult to find.

Even so, the authors of the study managed to compile some general numbers. As of the year 2000, six per cent of parents reported their children had accessed offensive content on the Internet. Nearly half of all Canadians have come across pornographic websites, with about 83 per cent of those doing so unintentionally. Another 13 per cent of Internet users stumbled across content that promoted hate or violence against an identifiable group. And eight per cent of Internet users reported that they had received a threatening or harassing e-mail.

With regards to personal security on the Internet, hacking and viruses caused the most complaints. About 45 per cent of those surveyed said they'd had problems with viruses, and 32 per cent said their e-mail or personal computer files had been hacked into.
 

Professor Mark Perry

Problems with Policing
 
Getting control of the cybercrime problem is not as simple as forming a dedicated cybercrime unit. Policing Internet crime is fraught with difficulties. Professor Mark Perry, an expert at the University of Western Ontario on technology and law, said the Internet presents unique problems.

"I think it's just a very difficult area to police because in many cases it's anonymous, there's so much access," said Perry. "If you're talking about the traffic on the 401... you can stick a speed camera up and catch people fairly easily. But if you think about monitoring a network or trying to catch people on a network... first you have to get a court order, secondly there's a huge amount of traffic - where are you going to start to look for material?"

It takes officers that are skilled in both investigations and technology to properly police cybercrime, said Perry. He also said the problem of Internet crime isn't likely to go away any time soon.

"If we continue to treat (the Internet) as we do at the moment - as a highly valuable open resource - then there will be new and imaginative ways for people to perpetrate one crime or another," said Perry. "People are greedy and stupid and some of them are just plain weird. Unless we cure that in society, then you're just going to find people using whatever tools we have available to either illicitly gain advantage or behave in weird or obscene fashions."

The other option is for the Canadian government to regulate the Internet much more heavily. Perry explains that it is possible to attach identifying information to every piece of information that travels across the web, meaning that everything on the Internet could be easily traced back to its origin. This has obvious advantages in terms of identifying child pornographers, or people committing various types of online fraud. But Perry notes that going the regulation route is like walking a tightrope.

"It's the same argument as saying that every citizen must carry with them an ID card," he said. "So you have to have this balance somewhere between maintaining what's sensible in terms of regulation and preventing crime on the one hand and on the other hand, not living in a police-controlled state."

Specialized Training

Because of the complexity of the problem, Amanda Pfeffer said the officers assigned to the London cybercrimes unit will receive ongoing and specialized training.

"Wherever the training courses are offered, our investigators will attend. Certainly the Canadian Police College in Ottawa will offer some training to them as well as the Ontario Police College," said Pfeffer.

The precise details of the training itself are kept quiet, she notes, to give the officers as much of an advantage over criminals as possible.

Police also rely on information from other policing partners, said Pfeffer. "Certainly if something is working well for one municipality it will work well in another very likely."

Liberal MPP Deb Matthews

Jurisdictional Issues
 
When confronted with the issue of jurisdiction over Internet crimes, Pfeffer admits it's a problem. She said it is possible for a complainant to live in London but be victimized by someone from the United States. In such a case Pfeffer said jurisdiction falls wherever the origin of the crime was.
 
"We will take the preliminary information down, but if the offence wasn't committed in the city of London then the information is sent to the jurisdiction where the offence was committed," she explained.

MPP Deb Matthews feels that the London Police Service is making good use of its resources.

"I think London is a pretty progressive police force," she said, and notes that she really believes in preventative policing as well as law enforcement. "You know, I think they've struck the right balance. I really do," she said of the London Police Service. "Obviously enforcement is really important, but prevention is really important too.  I think it's way better to educate kids to be alert to the dangers on the Internet than to capture somebody who's perpetrating crimes. I think you've got to do some of both."
 
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