Priti Patel has highlighted the “truly horrific levels’’ of sexual abuse and exploitation of children on the internet, and a huge rise in overall criminal activities online as she called for review and reform of the 21-year-old Computer Misuse Act.
The home secretary told a cybersecurity conference that the scale of the problem can be judged by 800 arrests every month, revealing perpetration of “the most heinous and appalling crimes against children”. Adding that the abuse of the vulnerable young, the increase in criminal activities as well as those acting on behalf of hostile states makes it “critical that the government has all the right levers available to ensure” successful prosecution.
Speaking at a virtual annual CyberUK gathering she said: “As part of ensuring that we have the right tools and mechanisms to detect, disrupt and deter our adversaries, I believe now is the right time to undertake a formal review of the Computer Misuse Act. And today I am announcing that we will be launching a call for information on the Act this year.”
The Computer Misuse Act, introduced in 1990, has faced criticism a number of times recently. In July last year the Commons Intelligence and Security Committee, with oversight of the intelligence services, recommended that “the Computer Misuse Act should be updated to reflect modern use of personal electronic devices.”
The government responded at the time that that the Computer Misuse Act was regularly reviewed to examine any need for change, opposition parties as well as technology and security analysts have pointed out, however, that little has been done to implement reforms.
This week the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) said in a report that scams on the Internet rose by 15-fold in the last year with more attacks countered in the last 12 months than the previous three years combined. Hostile states as well organised crime gangs targeted government departments to exploit the crisis from Covid to the chaotic aftermath of Brexit.
Ms Patel said: “The scale of this type of criminality is truly shocking. In the year ending September 2020, there were an estimated 1.7 million cyber dependent crimes experienced by adults in England and Wales.”
The home secretary said the overall cost of computer crime against individuals has been estimated at over £1bn. And nearly two out of every five businesses in the UK identified at least one cyber security breach or attack in the last 12 months. Ms Patel added: “These are not just statistics. The impact of these breaches and attacks have a profound and lasting impact on people and their lives and livelihoods. These crimes are not victimless. They cause real harm to people and businesses.”