The California Department of Justice (DOJ) announced this week that it has created a new unit of attorneys and investigators that will work on crimes that involve the use of technology.

The department’s eCrime Unit will work across jurisdictional lines to investigate and prosecute cybercrime, identity theft, computer theft, online child pornography, intellectual property theft, and other similar crimes.

California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris announced the formation of the eCrime Unit at a press conference in Santa Clara County, Calif., on Tuesday, Dec. 13. It’s known in the department as the “eCU.”

“So far, what I can tell you is that what we have addressed are crimes that perhaps would have gone without consequence because, frankly, the jurisdiction just wasn’t clear,” Harris said. “Maybe it was because the incident occurred in a cloud, and who has jurisdiction over that cloud? Or sometimes there was ambiguity about who would take it on because the victims were in many different jurisdictions.”

The unit has a broad mandate to work across jurisdictional lines, she said. Two of the state’s biggest industries — technology and entertainment — are directly impacted by piracy and intellectual property theft. That message has been echoed by lawmakers.

"Every year, California loses millions of dollars because the intellectual capital of our state is being hijacked by criminal elements," said Assemblywoman Nora Campos, D-San Jose, in a California DOJ news release. "The addition of the eCrime Unit to California's fight against technology crimes sends a clear message that we are determined to root out this type of illegal activity."

The eCrime Unit’s 20 attorneys and investigators began their work in August, according to the state DOJ.

Why now?

“Well, because the time has come,” Harris said, “for us as public institutions to adopt this technology and take advantage of its uses.”

As part of the eCrime Unit initiative, a pilot in Fresno at a technology center is demonstrating how law enforcement can extract forensic data from a variety of smartphones that are on the market, Harris said.

Statistics suggest that California could be at particular risk of technology-related crimes.

“California had 10 of the top 25 metropolitan areas for identity-theft related consumer complaints in 2010,” the California DOJ said. “According to the Federal Trade Commission, California has the most identity theft complaints of any state and third highest per capita. In fact, every year, more than 1 million Californians are victims of identity theft. Total losses throughout the state exceeded $46 million last year.”

In conjunction with the announcement of the state’s new eCrimes Unit, Harris also announced a new website devoted to cybersafety, at http://oag.ca.gov/cybersafety. The website contains information about online child safety, identity theft prevention tips and help for victims.

Matt Williams Matt Williams  |  Contributing Writer

Matt Williams was previously the news editor of Govtech.com, and is now a contributor to Government Technology and Public CIO magazines.