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It’s time to tackle wildlife cybercrime

In recent years we have seen a shift in the use of social media platforms and online marketplaces which are being used to trade in endangered species, sometimes cutting out the middle man. This form of trading is often seen as low risk and difficult to detect and any new enforcement regulation from Defra needs to consider how we tackle cybercrime.

IFAW has been working with enforcers to ensure they prioritise wildlife cybercrime for a number of years, while simultaneously encouraging the Government to support their efforts in this area. So the recent announcement is good news, with the Government committing real resources and money to tackle this burgeoning area of wildlife crime. IFAW’s report Wanted – Dead or Alive, exposing online wildlife trade, found that a total of 33,006 endangered animals and wildlife products were available for sale in 9,482 advertisements estimated to be worth a minimum of US$10,708,137 (almost £6.5 million) over a period of six weeks. The report investigated the trade in endangered wildlife taking place on 280 online marketplaces in 16 countries during this time. This small window of research just gives a tiny snapshot of what is going on online.

The real rub comes when enforcers and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) try tackling these crimes head on. For this reason we need regulation that directly addresses cybercrime within the new statutory instrument, to make sure the handcuffs are taken off enforcers and placed firmly on the criminals.

The UK Government has a unique opportunity to include a significant change as regulation called the Control of Trade in Endangered Species Regulations 2009 (COTES) to stop the illegal wildlife trade within the UK is now being reviewed following a consultation by Defra. The Statutory Instrument (SI) that would make this law is yet to be put before Parliament, but we are very encouraged that the Government says the SI will include “a provision to require the number of the relevant Article 10 certificate, where one has been issued, in any advertisement for sale of a specimen in order to clarify the legality of products offered for sale, in particular over the internet.” This puts the burden of proof on the trader to show they have the necessary permits to trade wildlife and thus enables enforcers to distinguish dubious adverts from legitimate ones more easily. Without clauses like this we would be leaving loopholes in the regulations, which would allow this trade to flourish online.

A strong regulation is just one key point that needs to be considered. The next is what happens when a case gets to court? To have a truly holistic approach you need enforcement staff, resources, strong regulations and then good sentencing guidance in the courts to make sure criminals are getting the right level of punishment for these serious offences.

Defra must urgently work with the Ministry of Justice in developing new and revised sentencing guidance on illegal wildlife trade, which also covers cybercrime. This needs to appear at the same time that new COTES regulations are published, or we will miss a unique opportunity to join all the dots together. Our aim is to have a robust set of regulations and good guidance to make sure we stop the illegal wildlife trade and help shut down an important global marketplace within the UK.

If we are to support the efforts of the Duke of Cambridge to end the illegal wildlife trade, then we need strong regulations and the sentencing guidance for the courts to act as a real deterrent.

David Cowdrey

Member of the Wildlife Crime and Trade Group

Head of Policy and Campaigns, IFAW

Aspects of this blog were originally published on another website

The opinions expressed in this blog are the author’s and not necessarily those of the wider Link membership