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Top 5 Takeaways from Security & Policing 2021

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For the first time in its history, the Home Office Security & Policing event went virtual in 2021.

This is a 3-day event that sees the UK draw upon the expertise of government, academia, and industry to discuss hot topics and – unofficially – nurture solidarity in law enforcement communities worldwide addressing similar challenges.

This year, thanks to COVID and digitalization, the latter element was more palpable than ever, attracting hundreds of international law enforcement and government representatives…and saving us all a long journey to Farnborough, UK!

Far from being any less important in virtual form, the UK Home Secretary, Priti Patel, was quick to remind us – opening the conference – that ‘law and order is the cornerstone of our free society’. The ‘resilience, skill and courage’ of serving members of this community shone in a year of various challenges.

Drawing from a multitude of speakers and panelists, here are my top takeaways from the three-day event.

Diversity Fuels Innovation (…on both sides)

  • Police forces need other public bodies – not just NHS Digital, who’ve done so with medical files to aide investigations – to share data and accelerate investigations and safeguarding. Stepping back, government departments can’t afford a siloed mentality in the face of state actor threats.
  • Encryption, cryptocurrency, and the Dark Web are tools of choice in increasingly international criminal communities.
  • Cross-border technology sharing is an opportunity, not necessarily a threat. Taking a ‘vanilla’ technical framework that serves regional standards is possible (and exciting).

Cyber Awareness is (still) crucial

  • Focus must be placed on mid-career transition (not just school leavers and graduates) to address the skills shortage in cybersecurity.
  • Cybersecurity is not standalone, and this mindset must change. Cybersecurity relates to anything because everything, whether we like it or not, is cyber-secured.
  • Collaboration for delivering and educating cyber awareness – from CyberAlarm, CyberFirst, Resilience Centres and beyond – builds force collaboration through the backdoor.

Get rid of the ‘lone’ actor

  • Lone’ actors are better defined as ‘self-initiated’ actors, owing to the growing and direct influence of organised crime networks.
  • The upstream element of fighting organised crime requires a national data exploitation capability. Watch this space.
  • Localism has limits when facing state threats. In the UK, 45 forces have political and operational independence, meaning 45 different approaches to the same problem. This is a good thing in some respects, but state adversaries demand state strategy.
  • Youth radicalisation and cyber criminality are mounting concerns, thanks to the combination of complex psychological needs of children and lockdown anxiety.

Child exploitation remains top of the agenda

  • The impact of encrypted messengers is a ‘terrible irony’ as it limits access to a child’s online content. Thinking seriously about a mandate to investigate child locks and deanonymisation requires technology & policy – so often wrestling against one another – to collaborate. The use of online aliases by children makes forensics even harder.

Europe’s defences will be technology-led

  • The upcoming Ministry of Defence integrated review 2021 will focus on the need for early anticipation and predictive analysis.
  • Criminality thresholds are changing thanks to Brexit. When placed in the context of drug and human trafficking across Europe, this means how we collect data at the border is now a matter of national security.
  • The emphasis in various sessions on counter-drone technology demonstrates the pace of the criminal arms race.
  • Port digitalisation and automation are inevitable and create new opportunities to automate security checks but mean greater responsibilities and threats too.

Overall the event was a great way for the law enforcement community to open up about their wants and needs. The specific work of JSarC, ACE and Dstl to encourage industry collaboration and learning speaks to the clear willingness of governments to seek creative, innovative ways to stay ahead of the curve in an age of borderless crime.

Read more about how Constella Intelligence helps police forces and government departments solve crimes faster globally on our blog.

By Lindsay Whyte, UK Regional Director at Constella Intelligence