Skip to main content

Intellectual Assets: Crime

Volume 721: debated on Tuesday 2 November 2010


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the threat posed to United Kingdom corporate interests by illicit attempts to acquire proprietary technology and other intellectual capital.

My Lords, this Government recognise the risk to the prosperity of the United Kingdom from the loss of intellectual assets, and work is afoot to obtain accurate information as to the size and nature of that loss. The Government provide advice to private sector companies on defending their systems against cyberthreats. The transformative cybersecurity strategy, which the Government are now developing, will strengthen our collective ability to tackle cyberespionage and cyberattacks that target UK intellectual capital.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reassuring and informative Answer. Does she accept that the protection of proprietary, valuable technology is absolutely critical to companies’ ability, and indeed willingness, to invest in long-term research and development, and indeed to our ability as a country to attract inward investment?

My Lords, I think that the whole House will endorse the view that an economy such as ours depends crucially for its advance and future prosperity on its capacity to innovate and the intellectual capital on which that depends. Therefore, a central part of the Government’s strategy is very much concern not just with national security but with developing, with the private sector, a secure cyberplatform on which investment in this country from both domestic companies and companies abroad can be based.

Bearing in mind the increasing threat posed by the type of crime raised in this Question and the importance of developing still further links and levels of co-operation with other countries on this issue, can the Minister give a categorical assurance that the Government’s intention to merge the Serious Organised Crime Agency with the new national crime agency will not result in any diminution of personnel and resources directed at fighting crime of this kind? Furthermore, will the Government’s recently announced review of intellectual property and its value to the UK economy also address the threat posed by intellectual property crime?

My Lords, of course many sorts of crime are involved. The original Question was clearly about espionage but there is also theft, to which the noble Lord referred—that is, crime of a more straightforward kind—and both those aspects of our intellectual underpinning in this country need to be addressed. I can give the assurance that there will be no change in the status of SOCA, which will remain central—and I mean central—to crime-fighting in this country, so there will be no diminution in our efforts on that front. As those on the Benches opposite may know, we will produce a strategy for cybercrime by the end of the year. Therefore, I can give that assurance, and we agree with those on the Benches opposite that this is a matter of high national importance.

My Lords, will the Minister tell the House of any work that is being undertaken internationally since it seems that work with other countries should be central to management of the ware?

Yes, I can give several instances but two in particular. First, the UK is developing a vision for our handling of cyber issues in the future which we will share with close allies. Secondly, noble Lords may have observed that it was announced today that we and the Government of France are seeking to co-operate on cyber matters. I believe, as the noble Baroness says, that we will not succeed in producing a secure cyberrealm in the absence of international co-operation.

My Lords, the Minister and the Government were correct in identifying cyber as a major new priority in the strategic security review, but does she accept that if we are to counter the use of malware, industrial espionage, or, God forbid, cyberattacks from terrorists, possibly in our emergency systems or in the financial sector, we will require above all a new cadre of well-developed, trained and selected young people who are at the very frontiers of thinking in this direction? Can she tell the House what measures have been taken to encourage and identify such a cadre?

The noble Lord puts his finger on a very important issue, and one that will be a concrete and identified part of the strategy that the Government are developing. Clearly we need to have proper competences in government and co-operation with the private sector, and to build skills in this country, which means enhancing the necessary studies at our universities. We must also encourage best practice and good behaviour among all cyberusers—individuals as well as companies.

My Lords, I know that the noble Baroness shares my view about the importance of cyber, and I welcome the extended work on that. However, her initial Answer did not quite give the right impression that we are still looking at the problem. Am I not right in saying that whole areas—for example, whole engines and their entire design specification, and whole aircraft and their design specification have been taken from companies in this country and America? We know that that has happened. That information is already there and it is important that it is acknowledged by the Government—it was certainly acknowledged by the previous one.

This might be more difficult, but I would be interested to know the answer. Mr Jonathan Evans, head of the Security Service, mentioned China as a specific country. Would the noble Baroness be willing to agree with that, or is it too sensitive to talk about?

I think that I will refrain from rising to that one. The noble Lord is quite right that this is one of the reasons why we have fixed our eyes on this threat. It is real. There is evidence that theft has taken place and it must be stopped, so there is no dispute between us. In my original Answer I was saying that we are trying to put a value on the losses. In other words, we are doing some historical work but also looking at the trend lines to be able to know more than we do at the moment about both the volume and the nature of the threat we face.

My Lords, the Government very sensibly in the spending review announced an increase of expenditure on cybertechnology and cybercrime. Is the Minister confident that there is sufficient co-ordination within Whitehall to ensure that that money is spent correctly, and will she advise the House which is the lead department in Whitehall on this issue?

My Lords, the lead department is the Cabinet Office and I am the Minister responsible in that department. The answer to the noble Lord’s question is that we are extraordinarily aware, as I am sure the previous Administration were, of the need for co-ordination. We are building on what the preceding Administration did to strengthen the co-ordination, but we want rather more than that. We want a single strategy that all the departments follow, and do not want simply to co-ordinate existing efforts but to have everybody involved in an overall strategy in which they each pursue their delegated part.