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Home Office proposes new Net pedo laws

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The Home Office is to propose a controversial new law that makes it a jailable offence for someone to pose as a teenager in Internet chatrooms.

The proposal - to be announced today, according to the Independent - is aimed at solving the problem of paedophiles that entice or "groom" children over the Internet to meet them.

However, there are grave concerns over the law, its effectiveness and the hypocrisy shown by the Home Office in this matter.

The plan is to allow parents, children and the police to ask for a banning order against anyone they suspect of using the Net to find children by lying about their age or giving false personal details. If this order is broken, the person would face a prison term of up to five years. The police and ISPs would be expected to monitor chatrooms and keep an eye out for any suspects.

The law continues to outline the Home Office's abject misunderstanding of the Internet and also points to an alarming hypocrisy within the department. At the beginning of March, a junior minister faced a barrage of criticism when he suggest precisely the same legislation, with ISPs in charge of maintaining the system. The government accused the media of misrepresenting the minister's views.

Later that same month, the Home Office held a press conference at its London HQ to discuss the findings of a report by the Internet Crime Forum on precisely the paedophile issue. That time, a senior police representative said that any such legislation would be completely impractical and Home Office minister Lord Bassam said that while the government was considering a new offence of deception, it was part of a wider review and would account for everyone's views before pushing it. The assurance was that new laws on this matter were far off.

The two-faced approach of the Home Office aside, the law as proposed also raises the extremely worrying precedent of finding someone guilty of a crime even when that crime hasn't taken place or even been attempted. This is truly Thought Police material.

It is also impractical. There are hundreds of thousands of chatrooms and people from all over the world use them. The cost of monitoring rooms would be enormous. How would such a banning order be delivered? How would police know who someone was? Even if they were tracing IP addresses - which they are now entitled to do - that is no guarantee they can pinpoint a particular person. The law would also prove very ineffective against anyone but a UK citizen.

In short, the Home Office would appear to be ignoring the advice of industry, the police and the media in its attempt to look as though it is tackling the perceived notion of paedophiles crawling all over the Net. And by doing so, it is eating away individuals' rights even further.

As we have said many times in the past, the most effective way of reducing this Net "grooming" problem is to educate kids about the possible dangers of chatrooms. ®

Related Link

Internet Crime Forum

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Govt whips up chatroom pedo hysteria
Govt offers Net advice to schools
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