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Home Office - News Release - 19 July, 2001

'PAEDOPHILES FACE CRACKDOWN - ONLINE AND OFFLINE'
TASK FORCE ON CHILD PROTECTION ON THE INTERNET


50 Queen Anne's Gate, London SW1H 9AT
(night line: 020 7273 4595) Fax: 020 7273 4660
Public Enquiry Line: 020 7273 4000

177/2001 19 July 2001 020 7273 4545

'PAEDOPHILES FACE CRACKDOWN - ONLINE AND OFFLINE'
TASK FORCE ON CHILD PROTECTION ON THE INTERNET
New laws to tackle paedophiles who prey on children using the Internet were among measures recommended to Home Secretary David Blunkett as the Task Force on Child Protection on the Internet made its first interim report to him today.

After three months of intensive work to examine legislation, online child protection measures, and police training and relations with the industry involved in providing Internet services in the UK, the Task Force and its Chair, Home Office Minister Beverley Hughes, reported to the Home Secretary with proposals for:

legislation to tackle paedophile "grooming" activity on- and off-line; with a new criminal offence relating to a meeting with a child with intent to commit a sex offence; and a new civil order to protect children from an adult making contact with them for a harmful or unlawful sexual purpose whether by email, in Internet chat rooms, or by the school gates;

a best practice model of Internet chat safety measures for providers; drawing on current best practice from across the industry involved in providing Internet services in the UK, including a requirement for clear safety messages and tools, such as 'alert' buttons, to be displayed in chat rooms; and, in moderated chat rooms specifically for children, an alert system and a requirement that moderators should be properly recruited, screened, trained and supervised;

computer awareness training for the police and child protection practitioners; to ensure that all officers know how computers can assist in the detection and investigation of crime and how to collect and preserve the integrity of digital evidence. Such training should be incorporated into the basic core curriculum for new police recruits, and be a priority for serving officers, social workers and other practitioners engaged in child protection.

Receiving the Task Force proposals at an oral briefing today, Mr Blunkett thanked members for their efforts to date, promising to consult on their proposals over the summer with a view to legislating where necessary as soon as possible:

The Task Force also submitted proposals for:

a central "clearing house," of police, child protection and Internet experts that would provide co-ordinated and effective responses to concerns from the public and industry involved in providing Internet services in the UK about online child protection, whether seeking advice or reporting suspicions or crimes;

initial scoping for a public awareness campaign to deliver clear and consistent safety messages so that Internet users can enjoy the massive benefits of the Internet in safety.

Beverley Hughes, Home Office Minister and Task Force Chair said:

The Task Force will continue to develop their initial proposals over the summer, reporting further progress to the Chair, Beverley Hughes, in the autumn. Further work, including the possible development of basic standards and the structure of co-regulation for the industry involved in providing Internet services in the UK, will also commence in the autumn. A further progress report will be made to the Home Secretary early in 2002.

NOTES FOR EDITORS:

1. The Task Force on Child Protection on the Internet is a positive partnership of representatives from Internet service and communication providers; PC and software retailers and manufacturers; child welfare organisations; the main opposition parties; law enforcement agencies and academics; and began work in May 2001.

2. Legislation to tackle paedophile "grooming" activity:

While children are protected from most paedophile activity by current legislation, the Task Force is addressing the very real concern over how to safeguard children from predatory behaviour before the commission of a substantive sex offence. If agreed in principle, the proposals will need further development and close scrutiny including in respect of European Convention on Human Rights compatibility.

Both the criminal offence and civil order would apply to adults aged 18 or over, targeting predatory behaviour aimed at luring children into sexual activity under the age of consent, without criminalising the quite harmless world of imagination and fantasy which the Internet offers. The new provisions would apply offline as well as online - if conduct is wrong, it is wrong wherever it is committed.

3. Internet chat safety measures for providers:

The Task Force proposes a model of chat safety measures for all providers of Internet chat services to apply, drawing on current best practice found across the industry providing Internet services in the UK.

The model would include clear, prominent and accessible safety messages to be present on chat services such as:

clear links to safety sites or warning pages, which will include information for parents/carers and children;
advice on handling abusive chatters;

The model would also include clear, prominent and accessible safety tools such as:

'ignore' or 'alert' buttons, and 'grab and print' functions to enable users to retain evidence of abusive chat;
easy availability of filtering mechanisms for users, picking up obscene language, e-mail formats, etc.
and the ability at user end to block private chat/instant messaging;

And in moderated chat rooms specifically aimed at children:

an alert system in the form of a panic/help button at the top of each chat room page;
properly recruited, screened, trained and supervised chat moderators to monitor chat and prevent abusive conversations;
a system of reporting incidents through approved escalation mechanism.