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AFP cybercrime fight derailed by overseas officers

Date: January 11, 2008
Source: ZDNet Australia
By: Marcus Browne

Efforts to fight high-tech crime are suffering as a result of overseas deployments which drain both the manpower and resources of the Australian Federal Police (AFP), a senior police figure has revealed.

"These deployments represent a diversion to roles that are different to what officers had been doing," Jim Toor, CEO of the Australian Federal Police Association (AFPA), told ZDNet Australia.

Toor said that these areas included, but were not limited to, high-tech crimes such as child pornography and identity theft investigations.

"It requires a huge commitment to fight these emerging crime types, the technology moves so quickly, and the AFP has a large focus on that sort of criminality," he said.

"The issue really came to prominence when the force was unable to patch up the vacancies caused by the deployments overseas as quickly as they occurred," he said. "So we ended up with a vacuum."

David Vaile, executive director of the Cyberspace Law and Policy Centre at the University of New South Wales, said that the AFP has difficultly retaining technically qualified staff in the face of lucrative offers from enterprises.

"They face the perennial problem of retaining technically proficient personnel because of their tendency to get poached by the private sector," said Vaile.

He added the scope for using high-tech methods to investigate crimes in other areas has placed increased demands on already stretched personnel. "Some of the other people in policing are making increased demands to use high-tech expertise in an investigation where they once might not have bothered," said Vaile.

As part of its election campaign, the Rudd government promised to boost the AFP numbers by swearing in 500 new officers over the next five years, a move Toor and the AFPA welcome.

"These types of crimes require sworn AFP officers to investigate them, it's their jurisdiction," said Toor.

"The AFP has an enviable record of building and fostering the expertise, but a continual battle of attrition with big business in trying to hold on to staff," said Vaile.

A spokesperson from the office of the Minister for Home Affairs told ZDNet Australia today that the government was prepared to assign whatever funding was necessary to follow through with the commitment.

"The new officers will be assigned locally, and in areas that are the AFP's core responsibilities," said the spokesperson.

"This includes boosting officer numbers to combat emerging threats and the increasingly sophisticated technology being used by criminals to avoid detection."

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