Opinionomics | 18 April 2012

Must-read comment and analysis. Britain in the slow lane, youth unemployment speeding up, and Argent

1. Feed me, Seymour (Economist)

The Economist covers the YPF seizure, writing that:

First they came for the pensions, then they went for the central-bank reserves. Argentines have wondered for years which kitty Cristina Fernández, the president, would grab next in order to satisfy her government’s voracious appetite for cash.

2. High youth unemployment must be tackled, and fast (Guardian)

Jonathan Portes points out that youth unemployment remains high, and is still growing. It hasn't been this bad for a quarter of a century, but what is to be done?

3. IMF predicts modest growth as Europe starts to exit recession (Washington Post)

Howard Schneider reports on the good news from the IMF World Economic Outlook.

4. Economic update – April 2012: Coalition failures put Britain in the slow lane (Left Foot Forward)

Tony Dolphin presents his monthly overview of the economic situation.

5. Vodafone, C&WW, and a £5bn tax question (BBC News)

"A behind-the-scenes battle to acquire Cable & Wireless Worldwide, owner of one of the UK's largest fibre-optic cable networks, is coming to a head," writes Robert Peston. "What is striking about Cable & Wireless is that it pays very little tax thanks largely to massive capital allowances it generated in constructing its telecoms network. . . So there is an opportunity for both Tata Communications and Vodafone to reduce their UK bill for corporation tax by buying Cable & Wireless."

Protesters perform a skit during a tax day demonstration in New York City. Credit: Getty

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

Photo: Getty
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As crime moves online, the police need the investment in technology to follow

Technology offers solutions, not just threats.

It’s perhaps inevitable that as the world becomes more digital, so does crime. This week Alison Saunders, director of public prosecutions, recognised that online crime is as serious as face-to-face crime. “Hate is hate,” Saunders wrote referring to internet abuse, and the police should protect people from it wherever they are. This will add demand to under-pressure police forces. And it is only the tip of the iceberg. 

Forty-seven per cent of crime involves an online element. Police recorded 30,000 instances of online stalking and harassment last year. People are 20 times more likely to be a victim of fraud than robbery, costing businesses an estimated £144bn a year. On a conservative estimate, 2,500 UK citizens use the anonymous dark web browser, Tor, for illegal purposes such as drug dealing, revenge porn and child sexual exploitation.

The police need new technology to meet demand, a Reform report published today finds. Some progress has been made in recent years. West Midlands Police uses an online portal for people to report incidents. Durham uses evidence-gathering software to collect social media information on suspects, and then instantly compile a report that can be shared with courts. Police have benefited from smartphones to share information, and body-worn cameras, which have reduced complaints against police by 93 per cent.

Yet, Theresa May’s 2016 remarks that police use “technology that lags woefully behind what they use as consumers” still stand. Officers interviewed for Reform’s research implored: “Give us the tools to do our job”.

Online evidence portals should be upgraded to accept CCTV footage. Apps should be developed to allow officers to learn about new digital threats, following the US army’s library of knowledge-sharing apps. Augmented-reality glasses are being used in the Netherlands to help officers identify evidence at digital crime scenes. Officers would save a trip back to the station if they could collect fingerprints on smartphones and statements on body-worn cameras.

New technology requires investment, but forces are reducing the resources put into IT as reserves have dried up. Durham plans to cut spend by 60 per cent between 2015-16 and 2019-20. The government should help fund equipment which can meet demand and return future productivity savings. If the Home Office invested the same as the Department of Health, another department pushing “transformative” technology, it would invest an extra £450m a year. This funding should come from administrative savings delivered through accelerating the Government’s automation agenda, which the think tank Reform has previously calculated would save Whitehall £2.6bn a year.

As crime moves online, police must follow. Saunders is right to point to the importance of meeting it. But technology offers solutions, not just threats. Installing the next generation of equipment will give police the tools to do their jobs, addressing online hate and more. 

Alexander Hitchcock is a senior researcher at reform