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BT's pay-as-you-go paedophile detection

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BT is charging the police £130 a pop for searching information about suspected paedophiles using its services to access the Web.

The phone giant says it is making the charge to recover "part of the costs" incurred in making the search and maintains that it makes no money on the deal.

The charges were revealed on ITV's Tonight with Trevor McDonald programme, which outlined police procedures for identifying people involved in paedophilia on the net. When a suspect has been identified online, the officers contact BT to obtain their names and addresses, which BT will provide for £130.

The parents of murdered schoolchild Sarah Payne, condemned BT for hindering the work of police officers.

In a statement, they said: "We think this is absolutely disgusting. We are trying to protect our children, their safety shouldn't have a price attached to it - this service should be provided free of charge. BT makes enough profit as it is. How can it possibly justify charging the police for this critical information?"

A police officer speaking on the programme noted BT's
legal entitlement to re-coup any costs incurred, but said the company was on shaky moral ground.

He said: "While BT have every right legally to recover the cost of carrying out searches, they must surely balance this out with the ethical questions involved here. Surely they would want to make sure that paedophiles are not operating on the Net just as we are striving to do."

BT makes the charges to the police in its capacity as network operator - it says comparisons with other ISPs are not meaningful. A spokeswoman told us: "It is not a case of looking up the name and address in a database. It is actually a very complicated procedure."

She compared it to the recent case of a man accused of blackmailing an executive at Thames Water who was eventually traced to a laptop in Turkey. "Every time a user dials in he or she is assigned an IP address. Unless the user has a dedicated line it will more often than not be a different IP address, which in turn could be assigned to hundreds of people in a day."

Demon Internet, a leading ISP, says it makes no charge for this kind of information, but revealed plans afoot to introduce some stardard fees across the industry.

The Internet Crime Forum, an organisation comprising ISPs and the police, is looking at working out a fair cost scale, a spokesman for Demon said. "The police recognise that tracking down this kind of information is not a simple matter." ®

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