I first came across the internet acronym 'irl' many years ago but it was not long after I began living some of my life on line. Part of who I am, my identity exists in the virtual world of the internet. There are large bits of me, as were, held in binary code on a whole variety of servers. Some of this is current, some of this is historical. I have friends on the internet whom I will probably never meet in real life. We exchange greetings. I have been trolled and verbally abused. I have probably made thousands of financial transactions. Last week I initiated court action against a person online. Last night I watched ten minutes of a programme about One Direction's fan base and how they felt connected to their idols in ways that teenage fans of Donny Osmond and David Cassidy could only have dreamt of...
In recent weeks, there have been several tragic stories of young people being driven to suicide by abuse and threats via the internet. No doubt, although much less reported, many hundreds of people will parted with thousands of pounds via various kinds of internet scams. Probably also a fair few (dozens perhaps?) of credit cards will have been stolen, skimmed or cloned and used to pay for all many of items from airline tickets and tube fares. Also sadly some more children will have been groomed and put in danger of abuse. I could go on.
But who polices this virtual world?
Who has the resources not only to tackle such crimes when they occur but also the resources to reduce the risk of such crimes in the future? Who has the ear of the internet industry be they service providers, web designers, cloud managers and all manner of commercial people who make the internet work, so that robust preventative action can be comprehensively taken? What is the internet equivalent of a car immobiliser?
Who is taking a joined up strategic view on all this?
And yes I know we have CEOP and Action Fraud, and probably other units that I do not know about but I do wonder whether we now need a single joined up virtual police service to assemble all these resources together into one centre of excellence? Just like we have the British Transport Police (which in my view ought to look after policing at all airports and sea ports too - but that is another blog post) why do we not have the British Online Police Service?
And to complete the picture as I suspect many of these crimes overlap, I have added in the idea of 'remote' crime which would include in my book rogue phone calls and mail order scams (etc.) which also cause huge distress.
And so I arrive at the idea of the British Remote & Online Police Service as a new legal entity, probably with new enforcement powers, a governance structure that includes the internet industry (similar to BTP) and clear partnership liaison with 'irl' police services and financial regulators. In these straightened times this will need some imaginative sources of funding (a broad band / junk mail tax perhaps?) to ensure it is adequately resourced.
Can I interest one of the major political parties in this idea in time for the next election? Or even sooner perhaps...?
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