Provision of information held by Northumbria Police made under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (the 'Act')
As you may be aware the purpose of the Act is to allow a general right of access to information held at the time of a request, by a Public Authority (including the Police), subject to certain limitations and exemptions.
Under the Freedom of Information Act 2000, please provide me with answers and information requested in the questions noted below:
1. Do you have a specialist unit dedicated to cybercrime – which includes computer misuse, cyber enabled and cyber dependent crime?
2. If so, when did it come into force?
3. What is that unit called?
The following questions relate to the Unit noted above and specialist officers within that Unit. Please provide information to the requests for information below for the years 2016-2019 indicating your response for each year. Please also indicate in your responses, the numbers of officers or civilians who may also be employed by or working with a Regional Organised Crime Unit, whether by way of secondment or assignment (or equivalent) specifying which ROCU:
4. How many police officers or civilians does that unit employ (full time equivalents)?
5. How many of those are digital forensic or computer specialists?
6. How many civilian investigators does that unit employ (full-time equivalents)?
7. If you do not have a specialist cybercrime unit dedicated to computer misuse and cyber enabled crime, how many specially trained police officers are specifically
dedicated to cybercrime investigations (full-time equivalents)?
8. If you do not have a specialist cybercrime unit dedicated to computer misuse and cyber enabled crime, how many specially trained civilians are specifically dedicated
to cybercrime investigations (full-time equivalents)?
9. If you do have a specialist cyber-crime unit, how many police officers or civilian staff are dedicated to online fraud or computer enabled economic crime.
10. How many specially trained police officers or civilians dedicated to cyber-crime investigations are also dedicated to online fraud or computer enabled economic crime investigations (full-time equivalents)?
Following receipt of your request, searches were conducted with the Crime Department of Northumbria Police. I can confirm that the information you have requested is held, in part, by Northumbria Police.
I am able to disclose the located information to you as follows.
1. Yes, we have a specialist cyber team who deal with cyber dependent crimes. However, many traditional crimes may now be facilitated by the use of technology and can be classified as cyber enabled. Cyber enabled crimes are dealt with by a multitude of departments, area commands and units across the force.
2. The dedicated cyber specialist team were developed in January 2019 although the force had capability to respond to cyber dependent crime before this time.
3. The Cyber Crime Unit in Northumbria comprises of; The Digital Forensics Unit, Complex Fraud, Financial Investigation & Asset Recovery, Cyber Specialist and Paedophile Online Investigation Team (POLIT).
4. Cyber Specialist Team – Consists 8 officers and staff
With regards to the remaining information asked for, this will not be disclosed and by withholding we cite the below exemption .
s31(1)(a)(b) Law Enforcement.
Any information that may hinder law enforcement will not be considered for disclosure. While we release as much information into the public domain as is possible we cannot jeopardise any policing purpose.
This exemption is a qualified and prejudice based exemption and therefore the legislators accept that there may be harm if released into the public domain. The authority has to consider and describe the harm that would occur if the information were released and carry out a public interest test. In accordance with best practice, I detail the harm first.
To disclose information detailing information at these points could cause subsequent harm to the Police service’s ability to protect the public it serves and could prejudice its ability to perform core functions such as law enforcement. Clearly by releasing such information policing will be undermined and tactical information down to the level your requesting could be used by those wishing to cause disruption or harm to the communities we serve. It would not be in any interest to provide information that could be of advantage to those individuals.
Factors favouring disclosure
The release of the information would demonstrate the openness of the organisation to make public such matters public and disclosure would contribute to the accuracy and quality of public debate.
Factors favouring non disclosure
Releasing such data and operational tactics would give those individuals with the intent to do so, the intelligence required to disrupt police activity. This knowledge would mean that offenders would be able to target their offending more effectively which would inevitably lead to an increased likelihood of terrorist or criminal activity and an increased danger to the public.
Northumbria Police has a duty to mitigate any potential threats. Disclosure of information which is likely to undermine the Police service’s ability to serve the public in preventing and detecting crime can only be considered as being harmful to the public.
It would not be in either the publics or the polices interests to provide information which could aid those who are intent on causing disruption or harm to our communities or police services.
Having considered both sides of the public interest, it is considered that the balance favours non disclosure of the information requested. Whilst this information may be of interest to the public, it is not in the public interest to increase the risk of terrorist/criminal activity and such disclosures would always be resisted.
You should consider this to be a refusal notice under section 17 of the Act for your request.
Additionally with regards to information that may or may not be held relating to Regional Organised Crime units, we can Neither Confirm Nor Deny if any information is held and we do so by virtue of the following exemptions
s23(5) Information supplied by or concerning certain Security Bodies;
s24(2) National Security
s31(3) Law Enforcement.
Evidence of Harm
Any release under FOIA is a disclosure to the world, not just to the individual making the request. To confirm or not whether any other information is or isn’t held relating to secondments/ assignments to Regional Organised Crime Units would reveal whether or not Northumbria Police has specific specialist resources within an individual department.
Police forces work in conjunction with other agencies and information is freely shared in line with information sharing protocols. Modern-day policing is intelligence led and this is particularly pertinent with regard to both law enforcement and national security. The public expect police forces to use all powers and tactics available to them to prevent and detect crime or disorder and maintain public safety. In this case, revealing whether or not a specific ROCU has officers/staff assigned/seconded either to the force or from the force to ROCU, would place Northumbria Police in a vulnerable position by highlighting ROCU activity at force level and within cybercrime units.
The prevention and detection of crime is the foundation upon which policing is built and the threat from terrorism cannot be ignored. It is generally recognised that the international security landscape is increasingly complex and unpredictable. The current UK threat level from internationally terrorism, based on intelligence, is assessed as substantial which means that a terrorist attack is likely.
In order to counter criminal and terrorist behaviour, it is vital that the police have the ability to work together, where necessary covertly, to obtain intelligence within current legislative frameworks to assist in the investigative process to ensure the successful arrest and prosecution of offenders who commit or plan to commit acts of terrorism.
To achieve this goal, it is vitally important that information sharing takes place between police officers, members of the public, police forces as well as other law enforcement bodies within the United Kingdom. Such an action would support counter-terrorism measures in the fight to deprive terrorist networks of this ability to commit crime.
The impact of providing information under FOI which aids in identifying whether or not Northumbria Police has specific roles and resources within their cybercrime unit which are linked to ROCUs would provide those intent on committing criminal or terrorist acts with valuable information.
Public Interest Considerations
Section 24(2) National Security
Factors favouring complying with s(1)(1)(a) confirming that other information is held
The public are entitled to know how public funds are spent and resources distributed within an area of policing, particularly with regard to how the police place resources into their cybercrime units which could lead to terrorist offending. To confirm whether or not any other information exists would enable the general public to hold Northumbria Police
to account in relation to tactical resources deployed to police cybercrime offending.
Furthermore, confirming or denying any other information is held may improve public debate and assist the community to take steps to protect themselves.
Factors against complying with s1(1)(a) neither confirming nor denying that any other information is held
Taking into account the current security climate within the United Kingdom, no information which may aid a terrorist should be disclosed. To what extent this information may aid a terrorist is unknown, but it is clear that confirmation or denial will have an impact on a force’s ability to tactically place secondments from other agencies should they wish to do so.
The public entrust the Police Service to make appropriate decisions with regard to their safety and protection. The only way of reducing risk is to be cautious with what is placed into the public domain.
The cumulative effect of terrorists gathering information from various sources would build a picture of vulnerabilities within certain scenarios, as in this case undermining tactical resources within individual force’s cybercrime units.
Section 31(3) Law Enforcement
Factors favouring complying with s1(1)(a) confirming other information is held
Police forces proactively publish information on their websites relating to their cybercrime units, an example can be found here and this in itself favours confirming information is held.
Factors against complying with s1(1)(a) neither confirming nor denying that any other information is held
Northumbria Police has a duty of care to the community at large and public safety is of paramount importance. If an FOI disclosure revealed information to the world (by citing an exemption or stating no information held) that would assist an offender, this would undermine the security of the national infrastructure. Irrespective of what other information may or may not be held, confirmation or denial would reveal tactical capability and vulnerabilities enabling individuals to geographically map which forces have more specialist ROCU resources for cybercrime than others.
By its very nature, confirming or denying whether any other information is held would undermine the effective delivery of operational law enforcement.
The points above highlight the merits of confirming, or denying, whether any other information pertinent to this request exists. The security of the country is of paramount importance and the Police Service is charged with enforcing the law, preventing and detecting crime and protecting the communities we serve. As part of that policing purpose, various operations with other law enforcement bodies may or may not be ongoing. The Police Service will never divulge whether or not any other information is held if to do so would place the safety of individual(s) at risk or undermine National Security.
Whilst there is a public interest in appropriately and effectively engaging with the threat from criminals, there is a very strong public interest in safeguarding National Security. As much as there is a public interest in knowing that policing activity is appropriate and balanced in matters of National Security, this will only be overridden in exceptional circumstances.
The public entrust the Police Service to make appropriate decisions with regard to their safety and protection and the only way of reducing risk is to be cautious with any information that is released. Confirming or denying whether any other information is or isn’t held would definitely reveal specialist tactical resource information relating to where ROCUs deploy staff members within cybercrime units and vice versa. This would assist those intent on causing harm. Any incident that results from confirmation or denial would, by default, affect National Security.
Therefore, at this moment in time, it is our opinion that for these issues the balance test for confirming, nor denying, whether any other information is held is made out.
No inference can be taken from this refusal that any other information does or does not exist.