23 January 2020

A new unit at the University of East London (UEL) will investigate young people's pathways into cyber crime as part of a ground-breaking research centre that focuses on "human factors" behind cyber crime and online harms.

The Unit launched at the House of Lords on 23 January 2020 and was opened by Baroness Thornton. (Pictured: Dr Sarah Fox, Baroness Thornton, Vice Chancellor and President Amanda Broderick, and Professor Julia Davidson.)

The Online Harms and Cyber Crime Unit will explore key emergent issues such as: The way in which young people become drawn into illegal online behaviour; child online protection and the risks; challenges and opportunities to Law Enforcement Agencies of developing technologies.

The Unit will also examine the psychology of cybercrime, cyberstalking, hacking and organised crime, as well as the implications of Artificial Intelligence (AI).

Academics plan to investigate the links between offline and online crime and consider the human impact of a variety of types of offending, including financial.

They hope the research will help the police, criminal justice system and other agencies respond to future threats by understanding criminal behaviour and criminal opportunities presented by future technologies. 

The centre, based at the University's Stratford campus, will be directed by criminology professor Julia Davidson and the policing lead, Dr Sarah Fox, who have both conducted extensive research in the UK, EU and internationally focussing upon young people's online protection and wellbeing, as well as the legal/development and use of the Internet/digital and cyber environment.

Professor Davidson's recent research has led to the development of a child online protection policy and implementation plan in Rwanda (End Violence Against Children); underpinned the Government Online Harms White Paper (DCMS); and, explores child abuse online offending contexts to inform policy and practice in the UK (Home Office).


Cyberspace is still a relatively new domain. High quality research is needed to evaluate the threats, measure the cost, consider the human impact and to devise means for preventing, deterring future harms and bringing offenders to trial, whilst also supporting the victims,"

Julia Davidson, UEL professor of criminology, said.

Since 2014 Europol has recognised that there is a dynamic relationship between online and offline organised crime. Interpol has highlighted that new trends in cybercrime are emerging all the time, with estimated costs to the global economy running to billions of pounds. Therefore, as the barriers to crime participation and syndication offline have reduced, there has been a corresponding increase in online crime.

Dr Fox said, "New trends are constantly emerging, making it a challenge for agencies to police. There remains challenges in terms of policing cyberspace including as to where governance should lie and the role of various agencies.  The Online Harms and Cyber Crime Unit is perfectly positioned to help inform Law Enforcement Agencies, policymakers, statutory authorities, individuals and society."

Dr Fox's current research focuses on technology and opportunities/risks to policing and other Law Enforcement Agencies; and has given expert talks to Europol, the Council of Europe and at the United Nations. Dr Fox also sits on expert groups including the International Advisory Board of the International Commission on Cyber Security Law.

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