Oral Answers to Questions — Home Department – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 9th July 2007.
What recent assessment she has made of the effectiveness of measures to tackle computer crime and online fraud; and if she will make a statement.
May I thank Mr. Steen for his remarks? I think that my wife, and perhaps my children, would be surprised at his pronunciation of my constituency!
The Government have recently legislated to reform the criminal law to ensure that the Computer Misuse Act 1990 is fully up to date and able to cope with developments in e-crime. We continue to work with industry and law enforcement partners on crime prevention initiatives, including Get Safe Online, and we maintain regular contact with stakeholders to monitor the effectiveness of our efforts.
I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. He will know that anyone with a credit card, which I guess is most people in this country, can receive e-mails saying, "Please can you send information about your card, because it needs to be updated". That is what they call phishing, which is wrong and can lead to computer fraud.
There have been more and more instances of such e-fraud. Yet it seems at times that the police do not turn up any more when they are contacted, because the tide of such crime is rising higher and higher. The Minister said in his answer that there were numerous agencies to tackle that crime, but what steps are he and the Home Office taking to try to ensure greater co-ordination between those agencies to stem that ever-rising tide?
Part of the solution is for people to recognise the real risks that may be involved in so-called advertisements on the internet, and our education programme Get Safe Online seeks to achieve that. As for co-ordination, the hon. Gentleman will know that as part of its remit the Serious Organised Crime Agency has an e-crime unit, which I have visited and which is dealing very effectively with some of the most serious aspects of internet crime. Meanwhile, we await a business case from Commander Sue Wilkinson of the Association of Chief Police Officers, who will give us ACPO's views on what we should do about a co-ordination unit.
Co-ordination on a cross-force and indeed a cross-border basis is mission-critical. Legislative changes may be necessary to enable money to be chased, because if we do not chase the money we will never get to the root of the crimes. My hon. Friend is right to praise the work of Get Safe Online, but will the Home Office use some of its advertising budget to promote that work to the parents and businesses who could benefit from it?
I think that the easiest way in which to answer my hon. Friend's question is to say that of course we will consider his suggestion. As I have said, education abut the internet is crucial. We will think about the budget: at present the Cabinet Office funds Get Safe Online, but we will consider whatever we believe may be necessary to make use of the internet safer.
Since April, it has no longer been possible to report incidents of online banking fraud directly to the police. Instead, victims must notify their banks, which have discretion to decide whether to refer the matter to the authorities. Does the Minister accept that that sends a confused message about the seriousness with which this type of crime is treated—although it has risen by 45 per cent. in the past year—and suggests that his Department either cannot cope or cannot be bothered with e-crime?
It certainly does not indicate that the Department is confused. Nor does it indicate that the Department is not bothered about the whole issue. What we have done, with the agreement of ACPO and the Association for Payment Clearing Services, is change the system so that instead of going to the police station and not being sure what response they have received, people will tell the banks when they believe that fraud has occurred. The banks will then determine whether it has occurred, collate the reports, and give them to the police. That means not only that people will be recompensed for losses they have incurred but that the law enforcement agencies will be able to detect patterns of criminal activity, as a result of which far more perpetrators of fraud will be caught and dealt with by the courts.
I do not expect my hon. Friend to safeguard foolish people from giving details of their bank accounts or passing their money to conmen, but is he as anxious as I am to ensure that necessary safeguards do exist? I want to be certain that if I make a purchase online from a small company using my credit card details—or if one of my constituents does so—that company has a firewall to prevent others from hacking into the system, taking my details, and using my card to purchase other goods. Will small, and indeed large companies have a duty to safeguard my details, and how will that be achieved?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. He is right that it is not only members of the public who have a responsibility to protect themselves—one of the purposes of Get Safe Online is to encourage people to be aware of the difficulties they might face—but that small and big companies also have a responsibility to protect their customers. We are constantly in discussions and negotiations with them to discover what more they can do in that regard so that we ensure that we minimise fraud.