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UK-based downloaders of child abuse images could lose their credit and debit card facilities under measures agreed in Parliament on Wednesday.

The Data Protection (Processing of sensitive personal data) Order 2006 will allow card issuers to hand on data on customers cautioned for, or convicted of, buying indecent images of underage children. The information, supplied by the police, would allow banks to withdraw card facilities from individuals who commit an offence. It doesn't prevent offenders applying for credit facilities at other banks, however.

The order, which leaves it up to card issuers to decide whether or not to withdraw facilities, will come into force on 26 July. After the measures were first put before parliament on 13 June, the Data Commissioner expressed concern about seizing control of downloaders' accounts arguing that the confiscation of cards would be enough to achieve the governments' objectives. The government decided not to follow this advice.

The Department for Constitutional Affairs, the Association for Payment Clearing Services (APACS), the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP), law enforcement agencies, children's charities and the Home Office worked together in drawing up the order. Data protection minister, Baroness Cathy Ashton, said: "This order will help to disrupt pedophile activity and in that way will have an impact on re-offending".

APACS, the UK payments association, is backing the scheme. "No card provider wants to be associated with those who commit these crimes. With this change in the law our members will have the information they need to remove offenders' cards," said Sandra Quinn, APACS' Director of Corporate Communications.

In 2003 and 2004, around 3,000 people were prosecuted for either taking or making indecent photographs of children, up from just over 1,000 in the preceding two years, according to Home Office statistics. ®

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