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Number crunching knife crime and online ID verification

Legislating in a data-light zone

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This afternoon (Friday 16 May}, Margaret Moran, MP for Luton South, will introduce the second reading of a Bill to make age and identity verification compulsory for all online retailers.

It is, of course, all about knives – and porn and alcohol and anything else that teenagers are allegedly obtaining over the internet that they are not allowed to buy over the counter. But apart from some anecdotal evidence about the ease with which youngsters can buy these items online – often set up by the same media that then runs scare stories about 'knife culture' - real evidence is hard to come by.

The most recent panic was set off at the weekend. A survey by GB Group revealed that:
- Nearly half (48 per cent) of teenage boys under 18 have tried to buy adult DVDs or violent video games online in the past year... and over three quarters of these were successful
- One in 20 (5 per cent) 14 year olds have successfully purchased alcohol online
- A similar number of 15 year olds have been able to buy dangerous objects online such as knives
- A quarter (25 per cent) of teenage boys and over a third (38 per cent) of teenage girls under 18 have managed to buy items online using someone else's credit card

Without a baseline figure against which to measure these statistics, it is very hard to know what they are telling us. For instance, how does the 1 in 20 teenagers buying alcohol online compare to the number simply helping themselves to their parents’ drinks cabinet? The fact that GB Group also describes itself as the UK’s leading identity management company may also tell us something about the value of this survey. An in-depth study by the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies suggests the picture is more complex.

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