AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Austerity and funding cuts threaten to place police at a technological disadvantage against increasingly innovative and high-tech criminal organizations, Europe’s policing agency warned on Monday.
Europol said criminal gangs had a new array of technological tools at their disposal, ranging from hard-to-trace virtual currencies like Bitcoin to communications systems that allowed organizations to become looser and more decentralized.
“Sustained austerity threatens to leave law enforcement behind the curve and unable to close the gap to criminal actors, who continuously innovate and invest,” the Hague-based organization said in a report.
Scattered crime groups would increasingly do deals in a “virtual criminal underground,” carrying out transactions using virtual currencies and leaving little organizational footprint for police to target, Europol said.
Europol’s warning echoes concern in national intelligence agencies. Last year, the Netherlands said Islamist radicals in Europe were increasingly organizing themselves online, becoming an elusive and decentralized “swarm”.
Cracking such networks would need skills few police forces currently had, Europol said, adding that if budgets did not rise, victims of cybercrime might have to step up themselves, “crowdsourcing” the funding to investigate incidents.
The agency said that the shifting balance of the global economy would also bring about changes in the nature of the crimes faced by police in Europe.
As the continent’s relative prosperity declined, the streams of economic migrants trying to enter the continent via the Mediterranean and the Balkans would slow or change direction.
“Europe ... may not necessarily remain in the top tier of desired destination regions” for economic migrants, it said.
In the longer term, criminal gangs could begin offering their services to European economic migrants hoping to gain illegal entry to the Asian or South American labor markets.
Reporting by Thomas Escritt; Editing by Crispian Balmer