“(1) The Secretary of State shall have a duty to provide for a review of legislation which contains powers to prosecute individuals who may have been involved in the commission of digital crime in order to consolidate such powers in a single statute.
(2) In the conduct of the review under subsection (1), the Secretary of State must have regard to the statutes and measures that he deems appropriate, including but not limited to—
(a) Malicious Communications Act 1988, section 1,
(b) Protection from Harassment Act 1997, section 2, 2a, 4, 4a,
(c) Offences against the Person Act 1861, section 16, 20, 39, 47,
(d) Data Protection Act 1998, section 10, 13 and 55,
(e) Criminal Justice Act 1998, section 160,
(f) Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, section 30(1), (3),(5),(6), 78(5),
(g) Computer Misuse Act 1990, as amended by Serious Crime Act 2015 and Police and Justice Act 2006,
(h) Contempt of Court Act 1981,
(i) Human Rights Act 1998,
(j) Public Order Act 1986, section 4, 4a, 5, 16(b), 18,
(k) Serious Organised Crime Act 2005, section 145, 46,
(l) Wireless Telegraphy Act 2006, section 48,
(m) Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2014, section 32, 34, 35, 36, 37,
(n) Protection of Children Act 1978,
(o) Obscene Publications Act 1959,
(p) Crime and Disorder Act 1998, section 28, 29-32,
(q) Criminal Justice Act 2003, section 145, 146,
(r) Communications Act 2003, section 127, 128-131,
(s) Data retention and Investigatory Powers Act 2014, section 4,
(t) Sexual Offences Amendment Act 1992, section 5,
(u) Counter Terrorism and Security Act 2015,
(v) Protection of Freedoms Act 2012, section 33(5), 29(6),
(w) Criminal Damage Act 1971, section 2,
(x) Sexual Offences Act 2003, section 4, 8, 10, 62,
(y) Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001, section 43,
(z) Magistrates Court Act 1980, section 127,
(aa) Suicide Act 1961, section 2(1) as amended by Coroners and Justice Act 2009,
(ab) Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008, section 63,
(ac) Theft Act 1968, section 21, and
(ad) Criminal Law Act 1977, section 51(2)
(3) It shall be a duty of the Secretary of State to determine for the review any other statute under which persons have been prosecuted for a crime falling under section 1 of this Act.
(4) In the conduct of the review under subsection (1), the Secretary of State must consult with any person or body he deems appropriate, including but not limited to—
(a) the Police,
(b) Crown Prosecution Service,
(c) judiciary, and
(d) relevant community organisations.”—
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
New clause 17—Surveillance and monitoring: offences—
“(1) A person commits an offence if the person—
(a) uses a digital device to repeatedly locate, listen to or watch a person without legitimate purpose,
(b) installs spyware, a webcam or any other device or software on another person’s property or digital device without the user’s agreement or without legitimate reason,
(c) takes multiple images of an individual unless it is in the public interest to do so without that individual’s permission and where the intent was not legitimate nor lawful,
(d) repeatedly orders goods or services for another person if the purpose of such actions is to cause distress, anxiety or to disrupt that person’s daily life,
(e) erases data remotely whilst a digital device is being examined by the police or any other lawful investigation,
(f) monitors a digital device registered to a person aged 17 or less if the purpose of that monitoring is to obtain information about a third person,
(g) monitors any other person’s digital device if the intent of the monitor is either to damage or steal data from that person, or
(h) creates a false persona on line without lawful reason if the purpose of such a creation is to intend to attempt to defraud, groom, impersonate or seriously damage the reputation of any other person.
(2) A person guilty of an offence under subsections (1)(a) or (b) is liable on conviction to a term of imprisonment not exceeding 12 months or a fine.
(3) For the purpose of subsection (1)(a) “repeatedly” shall be deemed as on two occasions or more.
(4) A person guilty of an offence under subsection (1)(d) is liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding the statutory limit.
(5) A person guilty of an offence under subsections (1)(e), (f), (g) or (h) is liable on conviction to a term of imprisonment not exceeding 12 months.
(6) The Secretary of State shall introduce restrictions on the sale of spyware to persons under the age of 16 and requests all persons who are purchasing such equipment to state their intended use of such equipment.”
New clause 18—Digital crime training and education—
“(1) It shall be the responsibility of the Home Department to ensure that each Police Service shall invest in training on the prioritisation, investigation and evidence gathering in respect of digital crime and abuse.
(2) It shall be the responsibility of the Home Department to ensure that all Police services record complaints and outcomes of complaints of digital crime and abuse.
(3) It shall be the responsibility of the Secretary of State for the Home Department to publish annual statistics on complaints and outcomes of digital crime and abuse.”
Diolch yn fawr. Forgive me if my understanding of procedure is incorrect; I am learning as I go along. I speak about these three new clauses and then I take a response, if I understand correctly.
Thank you very much. I am just covering myself in case something goes terribly wrong.
New clause 16 would place a duty on the Secretary of State to undertake a review of all relevant legislation that contains powers to prosecute people involved in digital crime, and to consolidate those powers in a consolidation Bill. This is because prosecution can currently be initiated using a confusing array of criminal legislation. There are 30 Acts listed here; there are actually more than that but these are the most relevant. Some date back to the 19th century. Existing provision is therefore evidently fragmentary and inadequate, and that is a hindrance to effective prosecution. It allows abuse—which, interestingly, we are talking about, from all directions, more and more—to continue unchecked, up to a point.
A very high threshold is set for the prosecution of hate crime over the internet, and this is understandable, but the way this threshold is interpreted varies between police forces across the country. Indeed, this is true of many aspects of digital crime. People’s experiences when they approach the police can vary widely under these interpretations, and the fact that so many pieces of legislation have to be referred to does not bring any additional clarity when clarity is what we need, first and foremost. So consolidation is the theme of new clause 16.
New clause 17 relates to offences associated with surveillance and monitoring. It would make it an offence, for example, to post messages or images that are discriminatory, threatening or would cause distress or anxiety. It would make it illegal to install spyware or webcams without good reason. It would also place further responsibilities on social media platforms to block offensive postings or postings inciting violence, for example. Current legislation is insufficient to deal with actions whereby people are now using digital means to harass or carry out crime.
New clause 18 is concerned with digital crime training and education. Given that the College of Policing estimates that half of all crimes reported to front-line officers now has a cyber element, there is a real need to consider how we prepare police personnel at all levels to deal with this problem. It is estimated that there are 7 million online frauds a year and 3 million other online crimes. The Chief Constable of Essex, Stephen Kavanagh, has warned that the police risk being swamped with digital crime cases. None the less—this is where training is important—I have been informed that only 7,500 police officers out of a total of 100,000 across Wales and England have been trained to investigate digital crime. This is a particularly significant area because it is extremely new to senior police officers in particular; it has not been part of their training in the past. There is also an issue for the police in that those who are particularly efficient at dealing with digital crime are often offered posts outside the police service.
To summarise this simplistically, it appears that the police, historically, were trained to deal with 20th century crimes, while we are now seeing crime shifting online. From those answering phones in call centres to those dealing with front-line issues, they all need training to respond appropriately to what threatens to become overwhelming. How do we identify what is crime that needs to be addressed and what is unfortunate social behaviour, which we would not condone but we would not necessarily associate with the police? There have been instances in the past of misinterpretation of the most adequate approach. I do not intend to push these new clauses to a Division, but I await the Minister’s response with interest.
The hon. Lady made a compelling case. I have three points. First, there is the nature of the growing threat and, I hate to say it, the terrible things that people do in the privacy of their homes, including, for example, hate crime and abuse on social media, which are absolutely unacceptable.
Secondly, the hon. Lady is right when she says that there is a real problem of capacity in the police force. Stephen Kavanagh is an impressive chief constable. Some of us struggle with digital literacy, but the figure to which he referred of fewer than one in 10 people being digitally literate is chilling given the scale and rapid rise of digital crime and cybercrime.
Thirdly and finally, the hon. Lady makes a good point about strategy in the police service. For example, with the national fraud strategy, the police have been moving down the path of a national product but local delivery. Local delivery means the work that the police do in terms of prevention and their being more digitally literate in future. Indeed, Gavin Thomas, the new chairman of the Police Superintendents Association, recently said that many more younger police officers who understand the technology need to be recruited. The hon. Lady has put her finger on a very important set of issues relating to a rapidly growing area of crime, the sheer scale of which the police are struggling to cope with.
I am very grateful to the hon. Lady, whose constituency I am going to try to pronounce correctly. I last dealt with this pronunciation when we considered the Serious Crime Bill last year. I have the luxury of the Solicitor General, who is a very adept Welsh speaker, to prompt me on how to pronounce this: Dwyfor Meirionnydd.
Not bad. I will not try again, but at least I have got that far. I am very grateful to the hon. Lady for tabling the new clauses, because they give the Committee the opportunity to debate these important issues. I hope to reassure her that the Government are absolutely committed to tackling them.
Digital crime and cybercrime are threats that we take very seriously. The Government continue to invest in law enforcement capabilities nationally, regionally and locally to ensure that law enforcement agencies have the capacity to deal with the increasing volume and sophistication of online crime. Through the national cyber-security programme, we invested more than £90 million in the previous Parliament to bolster the law enforcement response, and we will continue to invest. As the Chancellor announced in November, the Government have committed to spending £1.9 billion on cyber-security over the next five years, including for tackling cybercrime.
Additionally, we have invested in the national cybercrime unit in the National Crime Agency and created cyber teams in each of the regional organised crime units. Those teams provide access to specialist capabilities at a regional level. I think that we can all accept that it is expensive to have such technical support available to every force at a local level, and that is why the regional organised crime units, with their fantastic cyber units that are accessible to all forces, are incredibly impressive.
I remember visiting the south-east regional organised crime unit during the last Parliament, when organised crime was part of my portfolio, and meeting the young lady who had sat in that unit and cracked the case—I do not know if hon. Members remember it—of the Xboxes that no one could access at Christmas because of the activity of some hackers. A young lady working in one of our regional organised crime units here in the UK solved that crime and found the individuals responsible. We should be proud of the work that those forces do and the fact that we have such incredibly talented individuals working in the ROCUs.
Does my hon. Friend agree that a lot of this online crime—online fraud—is not local crime but happens in boiler rooms that sell, or mis-sell, things across the whole of the UK, and that there needs to be a collective national approach to it? A lot of this work is done by Action Fraud, which is based in the City of London police, so that the people committing these crimes that affect people across the UK are investigated in a single place here in London.
My hon. Friend gets this absolutely right. As a central repository of intelligence and information, Action Fraud can work out which force is best placed to investigate. It may well be that that is the National Crime Agency or an international force. I will give an example. One of my constituents could go to the marketplace in Leek in Staffordshire Moorlands and have a fraud committed on them there. It would be very clear that that had happened in Staffordshire Moorlands and that Staffordshire police should investigate. But if that happens online, the criminal could be based in eastern Europe, or the far east, or anywhere in the UK. Action Fraud can put that information into a central repository and get the links; that means that we have an excellent facility for finding the right force to investigate and for finding the criminal.
I do not disagree with what the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton was saying. These things are best looked at nationally—some of the conspiracies are clearly international as well—but does the Minister also agree that one of the problems with Action Fraud is that many people who have contacted it feel let down because of a lack of feedback about what happens in their individual case, or how their individual case may well be helping a bigger fraud?
The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. I had ministerial responsibility for Action Fraud, then my right hon. Friend the Policing Minister covered it and it now sits within the portfolio of the Minister for Security. We have all identified that problem and the City of London police are taking action to address that. They understand that feedback.
There has been a problem that local forces feel that they can pass the information to Action Fraud and it will deal with everything. There is a still an obligation on the local force to feed back to the individual. The crime has still been committed on that individual in the local force area, and it is incredibly important, and incumbent on the local force— working with Action Fraud—to make sure that feedback is given. I echo the hon. Gentleman’s comments.
It is important to make the point that crime is crime—whether it happens online or offline, it is crime. Somebody stealing money from someone is theft. It may be fraud. It may be that it could be prosecuted under some other offence, but it does not matter what the offence is—it is still crime. We need to make sure that the police have the capabilities to understand where the evidence is. It is not like somebody breaking into your home leaving fingerprints, but they will be leaving fingerprints online. There will be digital fingerprints all the way back. We need to make sure that the forces have the capability to see that and that local forces also know the opportunities that this affords.
One of my favourite examples of the great opportunity of online is that if somebody breaks into a house and they are carrying a smartphone, it will try to find the wi-fi. There will be a digital fingerprint from that smartphone. That is an opportunity for local forces to be able to crack more crimes.
We need to ensure that training is happening. Working across the Home Office with local forces, the National Crime Agency and ROCUs, I know that there is an incredible amount of work going on to ensure that local forces and police officers—bobbies on the beat—understand the problem that they are dealing with and how to tackle it. But it is crime. It does not matter whether it is online or offline: it is crime.
Turning to the new clauses, I will deal first with new clause 16, which calls for a digital crime review. As the hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd explained, the aim of such a review is to consolidate into a single statute criminal offences and other powers relevant to tackling digital crime and the misuse of digital devices and services. She made a very persuasive argument, but I am far from persuaded that such a lengthy and costly exercise would deliver the benefits she seeks. I do not accept her premise that the criminal law is defective in this area. As a general principle, any action that is illegal offline is also illegal online.
Legislation passed before—in some cases, well before—the digital age has shown itself sufficiently robust and flexible to be used today to punish online offending. Consequently, most of the long list of statutes and offences in new clause 16 relate to offending that may be carried out by both digital and non-digital means. I think the terminology is that this is cyber-enabled crime: it is the same crime that has always happened—it is just that the digital platform of the internet enables criminals from thousands of miles away to have access to victims here in the UK and across the world that they would never have had access to without the internet.
Crime is crime. It does not matter whether it is 20th-century or 21st-century crime—it is crime, and it needs to be tackled. The offences that have long been tested in the courts and in the legal system are the right ones to use, whether they have been committed online or offline.
The new clause suggests that the Government should review, with a view to producing a single statute, all legislation
“which contains powers to prosecute individuals who may have been involved in the commission of digital crime”.
It would be difficult, if not impossible, to separate all those powers from those used to prosecute non-digital crime. The new statute would not consolidate the powers, as the new clause suggests. Rather, it would inevitably reproduce and duplicate many existing offences, which would also need to be retained in existing legislation for non-digital offending.
That is not to say that, where we identify specific gaps in the law or new behaviours that ought to be criminalised, we will not take action to plug those gaps. Indeed, the Bill will criminalise the live streaming of offences relating to the sexual exploitation of children. Years ago, none of us would even have thought it possible, but there is live streaming and we need to make sure that we deal with it.
Likewise, in the last Parliament we created a new criminal offence of disclosing private sexual photographs and films
“without the consent of an individual who appears in the photograph or film, and with the intention of causing that individual distress.”
That is what we would perhaps call revenge porn. I think we can all see that that crime may have been committed before, but a partner sharing a photograph with a few friends in the pub, although equally offensive, is not as destructive as that photograph appearing online and being available across the world for millions of people to see. It is very important that where there is criminality and we see gaps like that, we act. We are determined to do so, and will continue to do so. I mentioned that the hon. Lady’s predecessor was a member of the Public Bill Committee that considered the Serious Crime Act 2015. In that Act, we further strengthened the Computer Misuse Act 1990.
New clause 17 seeks to create a raft of new offences relating to digital surveillance and monitoring. I presume that the intention is to address issues such as harassment and stalking offences, which can now occur through digital means. I want to be absolutely clear: abusive and threatening behaviour, in whatever form and whoever the target, is totally unacceptable. That includes harassment committed in person or using phones or the internet. The Protection from Harassment Act 1997 introduced specific provisions to deal with incidents of harassment, including the offences of harassment and putting people in fear of violence—offences that may be committed by online or offline behaviour, or a mixture. The 1997 Act also enables victims to apply for an injunction to restrain an individual from conduct that amounts to harassment, and it gives courts the power to make restraining orders. Those powers are regularly used to successfully prosecute offences committed by digital means.
I want to add one other point. I do not think that the issue we are discussing is whether the offence exists or whether it is sufficient; it is about understanding the offences and ensuring that the public and law enforcement know the offences and use them appropriately. I have experience of this in my own constituency: a business run by one of my constituents was subjected to an online trolling attack. I made the point that if my constituent had walked down the street and paint had been thrown at her, we would all have understood that offence. This was, effectively, digital paint being thrown at her from hundreds of miles away to destroy her business. That does not change the fact that she was being harassed. The issue is not that the offences are in some way lacking; it is about ensuring that they are known and understood, and that appropriate evidence is gathered.
Does the Minister agree that online and offline behaviour is partly an educational issue? If my 12-year-old was at the shops for four or five hours, doing what they wanted, unmonitored and unchecked, I would certainly ask who they were talking to, what they were doing and what was going on. There are parents who allow this behaviour, probably not seeing the dangers out there in respect of who children are talking to and what they are getting up to for a significant amount of time.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is so important. I co-chair, along with the Minister for Children and Families and Baroness Shields, the UK Council for Child Internet Safety—UKCCIS. It is a very important forum, bringing together internet service providers, education providers and people who have the ability to influence young people and parents. Parents must understand that they need to turn their filters on; it may be a pain to have to occasionally put in a password when looking at a website, but those filters will protect their children.
We are also consulting on age verification for pornography. When I was growing up, it was not possible to access the kind of images that children can download on their smartphones and look at in playgrounds up and down the country. It simply was not available. Again, we have to be clear: if a child cannot purchase that material offline in a corner shop, newsagent or specialist retailer, they should not be able to access it online. We need to make sure that we have those safeguards in place.
We need to get rid of any suggestion that this is too difficult or too hard, and say to parents that they need to understand what the dangers are and to make sure that filters are in place so that their children are protected online. Schools have a role to play in that, too, as we all do. I would be happy to write to all Committee members on the work that we are doing, which they can share with their constituents and local headteachers. I will be delighted if we can get more information to headteachers and others about the work that is being done to protect children online.
New clause 18 deals with digital crime training and education, which is linked to the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh made. I support the underlying objective, but I do not think that we need to legislate to require police forces to provide such training. Since the introduction of the College of Policing’s cybercrime training course in February 2014, more than 150,000 modules have been completed across all forces, and in September last year the College of Policing launched the second phase of its mainstream cybercrime training course for police forces. This is a modular course consisting of a series of self-taught and interactive modules that are accessible to all police officers and staff, which provides an introduction to how to recognise and investigate cybercrimes.
We need to get rid of the barriers and obstacles that make people think that they cannot investigate a crime because it happened online. They absolutely can; it is the same type of crime. It is money being stolen, it is harassment, it is stalking or it is grooming. These are all crimes. The fact that they happen online does not change the nature of the crime.
Additionally, more than 3,900 National Crime Agency officers have completed digital awareness training as part of equipping the next generation of highly-skilled digital detectives. The national policing lead for digital investigation and intelligence is co-ordinating a programme of activities to equip forces with the capabilities and technology to effectively police in a digital age and protect victims of digital crime. We need to repeat this point: it is not for the Home Office to mandate this training. Whitehall does not know best here. Delivering that training is something that the police are rightly leading on.
In conclusion, the Government recognise that tackling digital crime is one of the most important challenges that the police face today, and we continue to support and invest in the police to ensure that they have the resources and the capability to respond effectively. Having answered the points that the hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd made, I hope that I have persuaded her not to press her new clauses.
As I stated earlier, this is a probing new clause. The very purpose of tabling it was to hear the response. I am very pleased to hear that the view on cybercrime is that “crime is crime”. The Minister very effectively described it as “digital paint” being thrown at her constituents.
I believe, in line with those who advise us, such as Stephen Kavanagh, that there is room to look at this matter in a slightly different way. Training is a significant consideration. It has been brought to my attention that, although there are some powerful, centralised initiatives, the front-line work of all police personnel is significant, because there have been cases like the one that I mentioned, in which somebody in a call centre, taking the first contact call, did not interpret the harassment as something that should be taken as a crime. We should be very alert to the means by which we can strengthen the response.
To come back to consolidation, the message I have received is that the array of legislation is a cause of concern. It may be negating prosecutions. I believe that the issues I have raised are significant, because we are all concerned about them and have all had constituents come to us who have suffered digital harassment and abuse. We have mentioned online fraud as well. This is certainly an area in which we, as parliamentarians, should consider how best we can serve our constituents into the future.
Does the hon. Lady agree that this is not just an issue for the Government to tackle, but an issue for internet companies? Whereas online banking fraud has been quite effectively tackled by the banks, companies such as Google, Twitter and Facebook need to do much more. They are some of the richest companies in the world, with some of the best technical brains in the world and if this was an advertising opportunity by which they could make money, they would be up it like a rat up a drainpipe. This is about protecting users and the public, and they need to do a lot more. It is not just an area for Governments; it is an area for the people who are making money out of these services.
I had sat down, but I will stand up again. I agree entirely. What is very interesting is how we define, as a society, the behaviour that parents should be addressing in their children and how children should be taught to behave online. What behaviour is socially unacceptable, what is the behaviour in which the police should be involved, and what behaviour really is a threat to safety?
Before the hon. Lady sits down, I would like to give a quick response to the point about internet companies. I want to put it on the record that many internet companies are working very hard with the Government to deal with this issue. There is always more that can be done, but Google, for example, works with the Government and the Internet Watch Foundation to make sure that we close down inappropriate or illegal content as soon as it is identified—if not before it is identified, in fact. I pay tribute to them for the work they have done with the Government on that.
I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.