London’s top cop warns of dangers of policing in digital age


She said UK law enforcement adhered to very strong legal obligations in relation to retention, storage, deletion and security of data, but that technologies such as robots and autonomous vehicles presented their own challenges that legal systems were yet to comprehend.

“If a machine kills someone who is going to be held to account?”

The first female commissioner in the history of the UK’s largest police service, Ms Dick said it was difficult to comprehend the technological advances experienced by the force, since she began as a uniformed officer on patrol “on the streets of Soho” 36 years ago.

“In 1983 I had criminal records and fingerprints … [handwritten] intelligence collated on index cards … DNA as a tool hadn’t been thought of … and if you wanted an image of a crime scene, you had to call a photographer.”

Now, she says her 22,000 officers in the Met have body-worn cameras, with access to UK and European criminal databases on tablets and a limitless supply of video footage uploaded by witnesses of crime.

"You know things are going to happen faster:" Commissioner Cressida Dick.

“You know things are going to happen faster:” Commissioner Cressida Dick.Credit:AAP

“In 2005, following the London terrorist attacks, police investigations into the seven attacks resulted in the seizure of four terabytes of data. Today, a current counter-terrorist investigation has 81 terabytes of data,” she said.

While technology has been instrumental in reducing miscarriages of justice and corruption, Ms Dick said it had also reduced “relevant times” for law enforcement.

“Like the time it takes for someone to be groomed or radicalised, the time for a conspiracy to be created, for enablers like money or component parts for an IUD to be accessed,” she said.

“The time for a tiff to turn into an argument, a fight and a murder … You know things are going to happen faster.”

Last week tens of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets across Britain and Europe, in protest against British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s decision to suspend Parliament to force a no-deal Brexit.

Among them were more than 3000 who arrived at Mr Johnson’s “back door” at the Downing Street prime ministerial residence, in a showing which Ms Dick said never could have happened without social media.

As the UK heads towards a likely no-deal Ms Dick said there was no doubt police would lose access to resources like European arrest warrants and criminal records, which could potentially make policing harder.

“We currently have access to some data, systems that in the absence of a deal … we won’t [have], so we have been looking at what alternative arrangements there may be, what risk appetite we would have for dealing with things in a different way.”

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