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We have been working collectively with the financial community, law enforcement, the private sector and across government for some time to implement effective measures to counter identity fraud. We are not there yet, but I think that we are moving in the right direction. Polls show that the public see identity fraud as more important than terrorism, which is interesting. The noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, mentioned that to me; I checked it and he is absolutely right. It just shows how concerned people are.
Through collective working, a variety of activity has been undertaken to tackle identity fraud, focusing not just on investigation and enforcement, but also on raising public awareness by highlighting the dangers of identity theft and what individuals can do to protect themselves. The noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, mentioned the National Identity Fraud Prevention Week, which does that.
If I outline some of the things that we have done, that will cover some matters raised by noble Lords. The Identity Fraud Consumer Awareness Group manages an identity fraud awareness campaign, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, which has produced, for example, an identity theft website and an information leaflet. The website and leaflet are very popular. The website receives an average of 16,000 visits per month and there are over 13 million leaflets in circulation. One has to be careful about such numbers, as the outcome depends on what impact and effect these things are having. However, they show that people have an interest and are trying to find out about this matter. The website is currently being redesigned to include specific advice and guidance for businesses, not only on how to protect themselves; businesses also have a duty of care to their customers and to safeguard their customers records. I think that that is improving.
We have supported the National Identity Fraud Prevention Week. We have established a single point of contact in all police forces and a range of government departments and agencies to co-ordinate identity fraud investigations and prosecutions. It is clear that, as more people undertake banking, shopping and a range of other activities online, they need to be aware of the methods that can be used by fraudsters to try to access their online personal details. The noble Lord, Lord
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In the past few weeks, my wife has been a victim. She was phoned by her bank and asked, Have you been buying things here and there?. She had not. This can impact on everyone. Some two years ago, a postbag was stolen and someone cashed cheques on my bank account. These things happen to us all and they take time to sort out, as has been pointed out.
Another worry is social activities on websites such as Facebook, MySpace and Bebo. Young people in particular are disclosing a lot of personal information that can be very useful to fraudsters to facilitate identity fraud. A bank often asks for your mothers maiden name and you will find that people put that kind of information on Facebook. There is also the nuisance of unsolicited and unwanted spam e-mails and the serious threat that they pose, as they make unwary e-mail users reveal things that would not otherwise be revealed. We have to be alert to such threats.
The Get Safe Online public awareness campaign, a partnership between government, law enforcement and the business sector, has now been running for two years. This campaign aims to increase internet security and to provide authoritative, trustworthy and independent government and law enforcement-generated information and advice to online users.
On the formation of an online e-crime unit, the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, should be aware that, after the debate that we had in this House about cybercrime, I talked with my honourable friend Vernon Coaker in the other place about the issue, saying that we had to start to form an e-crime unit. It is too serious to wait. We have talked to the Home Secretary about it, who has said that she believes that we should move quickly. She has said that she will make the funding available to establish it.
The debate is about how we take this forward. What is the best overall approach? How does this fit in with the National Fraud Reporting Centre? How exactly will this tie together? As a result of debates in this House, things are moving forward. We need to get going. I will not get into cybercrime, which I see as more of a state issue. We talked about it the other day in the House. I am looking at the e-crime aspect, but cybercrime is also crucial. We are moving forward on that as well.
It is vital that legislation keeps pace with the changing techniques employed by fraudsters. That is why we have introduced a range of new legislation so that those who commit fraud can be investigated and prosecuted and proper deterrents are in place. The Identity Cards Act 2006 created a new criminal offence of being in possession of or controlling false identity documents. That is useful. The scope of these new offences is wide and covers not just false identity documents but the possession of genuine documents that have been improperly obtained or relate to someone else. These offences provide the police with additional means to disrupt the activities of organised criminals, terrorists and those supporting them.
In the first six months of operation, forces across the country have used the new laws to prosecute more than 500 identity crimes. This will grow and escalate.
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Data protection has been mentioned on a number of occasions in this House. It is a global concern. Both the public sector and the private sector are faced with challenges in keeping the data that they hold safe and in tackling information security breaches. We know how difficult that can be, but that does not mean that we can uninvent and remove it. We have to have firm controls. The Government and the private sector face many challenges in combating these things.
The Government seek to ensure that data are held securely and used properly. This balance is maintained by a good legislative framework, particularly in the Data Protection and Human Rights Acts. The Information Commissioner is the UKs independent regulator for data protection. He performs the dual role of promoting good practice, educating data controllers and taking appropriate action. The Data Protection Act provides a robust and responsive framework to protect and enable the sharing of data. That does not mean we have got it right in the pastwe have not. It is crucial that we tighten it up because it gives away too much if we do not. However, we have a grip on this now and we are doing better.
To further underline the Governments commitment to the protection of personal data, recent changes were made to the Data Protection Act through the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008. This introduced new powers for the Information Commissioner to impose a monetary penalty for serious contraventions of the data protection principles, and to increase, by order, the penalty for those found guilty of unlawfully obtaining, procuring or disclosing personal data. So the tools are in place for us to ensure that these things happen. It gives a strong signal that the lucrative and illegal trade in personal data will not be tolerated and there is a much stronger deterrent in place. We have also initiated a number of reviews of the areas where we have had problems. They are at various stages of reporting and will give us good guidance for what we should do in future.
The noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, mentioned data sharing. We are working to improve that, because it can dramatically help to prevent fraud occurring. The Serious Crime Act 2007 allows for targeted exchange of data on fraud between public and private sector and between different public sector organisations, through anti-fraud organisations, to highlight potentially fraudulent applications. As he said, that is extremely important. Expressions of interest from organisations wishing to become a specified anti-fraud organisation are being sought. The Police and Justice Act 2006 allows for the release of information on the recently deceased to law enforcement and specified organisations to help prevent exactly the sort of crime that the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, was talking about. I hope that that might close that loophole, but we have to watch it carefully.
The fraud review of the noble and learned Lord the then Attorney-General recommended actions that could be taken by the Government in partnership with law enforcement and the business community to tackle fraud and the harm that it has done. Last year we announced funding of £29 million over three years to develop the fraud review recommendations, which include establishing a national fraud strategic authority, a national fraud strategy, a lead force and a national fraud reporting centre. Those will all be extremely valuable as well.
The noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, mentioned the business of the parliamentary group. Meg Hillier has met it and committed to providing quarterly updates. That will be useful and again shows how seriously we take the matter. We have established a national lead force on fraudit is the City of London Policeas part of the fraud review, to combat fraud and ID fraud more effectively.
The noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, raised the question of combating phishing internationally. We have already put in a lot of effort with industry, government and law enforcement to achieve that, have had quite close dealings with the US and Australia, and will continue those efforts. We are getting somewhere on that.
The noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, mentioned an identity tsar. I am not a great believer in tsars, ever since the Romanovs; there seem to be too many tsars everywhere. The idea of a single Minister for cybercrime is interesting; I touched on it when we debated cybercrime the other day. We are still looking at it and trying to come up with the best answer. We have had useful Cabinet meetings on cybercrime and have moved forward dramatically since the middle of last year, when I arrived and was particularly worried that we were not moving on it. We are moving forward much more quickly now, in the right direction.
We must all use encryption more. We must do it privately ourselves; we are not good at that. It needs to be done better in the public arena and the private arena. There is no doubt about it: if the terrorists can use brilliant encryption, we can as well. It is not that difficult, and we jolly well ought to do it a lot more.
Although the national identity scheme may not be that popular, it will make a difference. Its introduction will provide people with a secure means of protecting their identity. Therefore, we are great believers in it. I believe that it will be useful to have one document that can help us. The fact that biometrics are involved makes it much more secure. Can one get round it? Of course clever people can always get round things, but they will find it a lot more difficult than they do today, so it is a useful way forward and I am a great supporter of it.
It is important to emphasise that everyonemembers of the public as well as public and private sector organisationshas a role to play in helping to tackle
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