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With a push on the send button of a cellphone, Police Commissioner Howard Broad yesterday launched a fresh assault on what he called the "cyberspace wild west".

He didn't look like Wyatt Earp and he didn't look like Neo from The Matrix either, but his sent text message activated a Matrix-like light show in the server room housing the computers and decoders in the new Police Electronic Crime Laboratory in Wellington.

Fourteen staff are housed in the e-crime lab using state-of-the-art equipment to crack down on the movements of criminals who use the internet and other electronic devices.

Since 2002 police have worked with Australian federal and state police and other overseas police agencies on e-crime.

Mr Broad said that would continue, but it was time for New Zealand Police to have its own e-crime strategy.

Over the next five years, the lab will align with a National Cyber Crime Centre (NC3) that will provide a single reporting point for e-crime - able to be contacted by telephone or through the internet.

It will target and electronically patrol places where crime occurs, focusing on high priority areas such as organised crime, violence and on-line child exploitation.

Mr Broad said police had witnessed the rapid evolution of electronic crime both in New Zealand and overseas.

"Crime is being increasingly committed in what is effectively the cyberspace wild west, a borderless environment where traditional policing methods are often no longer effective. This is the high end of new electronic crime - cyber-crime: anonymous, borderless, fast, dynamic and incorporating ever-changing and sophisticated technologies."

Traditional crimes such as illegal drugs, paedophilia and fraud were made easier by the use of computers, while police were also faced with newer forms of on-line offending, such as software piracy and hacking attacks.

One of the new e-crime developments attacks a problem which has caused police and those in the courts regular headaches in recent years - the backlog in processing electronic exhibits.

Project Eve (which stands for Environment for Virtualised Evidence) involves converting devices such as the computer hard drives of criminals into virtual images, allowing detectives to access evidence on their desktops rather than having to wait for forensic investigators to look at the evidence.

National e-crime laboratory manager Maarten Kleintjes said Project Eve would be rolled out in Auckland police stations in February next year, to be followed by Wellington and the South Island, with the idea that all stations will eventually have access to it.

It will cost several million dollars, but should bring an end to the frequent delays - sometimes as long as a year - to investigations and court cases.

Mr Broad said a big part of e-crime policing involved collaboration with local and overseas organisations such as Netsafe, which aims to keep children safe on the internet, as the way of the future in developing a combined agency approach to e-crime.

- NZPA