The new PM had blasted police forces for “policing bad jokes on Twitter” instead of “fighting actual crime” during his summer leadership bid. Now he’s pointing to the example set by Greater Manchester’s Police whose head, Steven Watson has taken his force out of special measures by getting back on the beat.
The popular image of community policing died with Dixon of Dock Green, London’s police force is trying to recover from years of scandals and its head has told us many senior policemen will have to go get the Met back in shape. Nonetheless, living in Central London means I see huge numbers of day glow clad police police ensuring good order at public events and many of them from other forces.
I can understand people’s frustration, most crime only goes reported to get an insurance claim, we no longer expect crimes against property to be solved , least of all property to be returned. Our chief concern is for the safety of our vulnerable kids from knife crime and sexual predation. These are the headline crimes that attract popular attention – especially when they end in court.
Because of its high profile, the physical crimes of larceny and sexual and other forms of violence get the headlines. So do those rare but super-publicised instances of terrorism where the motivation is ideological. When policing moves into areas of race or religion , it risks being labelled “woke”.
This is where I suspect Rishi Sunak wants to see less police activity. In my experience , the policing of the internet is a matter for those who manage search and content. We need to make the web self-policing, at least in is posted
Dirty online crime
Online crime is generated from the availability of digital information about us. Yesterday I was contacted by a recorded message from HMRC telling me I was the subject of a criminal investigation into not paying my taxes, my telephone number is in bad hands. We all have similar stories to tell.
Unless we have no web presence and do not use electronic communications, we are at risk of dirty online crime, our information is sold on the dark-web and we are subject to regular attacks – just check your spam and trash files. Our browsing histories are also for sale, vulnerable people end up seeing the adverts criminals want them to see. Search firms are literally “aiding and abetting”.
Many people think that this online financial crime is being tackled by the online harms bill, which is slowly making its way through parliament. This isn’t the case, the Bill is principally concerned with harmful content and , if passed without a clampdown on financial scam adverts, could result in an increase in what the Prime Minister is calling “woke policing“.
Financial crime is still being dealt with by Action Fraud and its various offshoots at the financial regulators. The consequences of financial crime are every bit as hurtful as those created by the offensive material that is covered by the Online Harms Bill.
This was made clear by former Pensions Minister , Guy Opperman while a backbencher (last week)
And specifically sections 34-36 of the Bill with provisions against fraudulent advertising on providers like Google / Instagram etc: ➡️ Big progress against scams on our elderly and vulnerable 👍1/ pic.twitter.com/Y9MhptVRhD
— Guy Opperman (@GuyOpperman) October 26, 2022
Opperman’s contribution to the debate refers to Stephen Timms’ work in this field.
Stephen Timms, in his capacity as MP and Chair of the Work and Pensions Select Committee has for years championed the need to include financial adverts in the scope of the online harms bill. I include this from his article , barely a month old in the Newham Recorder. Timms starts by praising the Bill but continues
… there is a glaring omission: online fraud. It does not cover paid-for scam adverts at all.
Money Saving Expert Martin Lewis has pointed out that there is an “epidemic of scams” after the pandemic.
The work and pensions committee, which I chair, published its report on pension scams last March.
In its evidence to us last September, the insurance company Aviva said in the six months since the first Covid-19 lockdown, it had identified 27 fake websites purporting to be Aviva trying to defraud pension-age customers of their investments.Too often, these scams succeed.
Our report called for the Online Safety Bill to tackle the problem.
Our call has been joined by many others, including consumer groups like Which? and, more recently, the City of London Police, the Financial Conduct Authority and the governor of the Bank of England.
However, in its response to our report, the government said that paid-for adverts would not be included.
I have continued to ask questions about this, and to raise it with the prime minister.
He agreed with me that the problem must be tackled. His ministers, however, are still saying it should be left until some other work has been completed – and it looks as if that could take years.
It’s much too urgent for that. The government must think again.
Support Stephen Timms and Guy Opperman’s call to action
The insertion of clauses 34-36 of the Online Harms bill.if included in the Act would put the onus on the titans of the internet to ensure we are protected from much of the scamming.
Without prevention of online scams , the Online Harms Bill risks becoming a woke charter, a threat to civil liberties and an encouragement of woke policing.
If the definition of online harms is extended to cover the promotion of online scams, then , as Timms says , financial scams will succeed despite the best efforts of Action Fraud.
Populist measures (the bill is currently sponsored by Nadine Dorries) get headlines, but it’s the dirty online scams which don’t get popular attention , that are the greatest threat right now.
If we are to tackle woke policing, we should tackle woke legislation too: the online harms bill needs to cover paid-for scam adverts and the police need to have powers to tackle those who pay for them.