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Organisations with interactive websites likely to be used mainly by children must ensure that staff moderating the sites are not barred from working with children from October.

It will be a criminal offence for an organisation to knowingly employ a barred person for a regulated role, such as moderating children's sites.

The Government is changing the way that it controls who has access to children and vulnerable adults and new laws take effect on 12th October. Those make the moderation of online services such as bulletin boards a regulated activity.

That means that anyone on the list of people banned from working with children will also be banned from moderating online services that are likely to be accessed and used by children. The same is true of people on the list relating to vulnerable adults in connection with online services likely to be used by vulnerable adults.

The Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act was introduced in 2006 and has been modified by a commencement order which expands it to include some online services as regulated activities, meaning that they cannot be performed by anyone on the list of banned people.

The new law includes as a regulated activity "moderating a public interactive communication service which is likely to be used wholly or mainly by children".

Organisations will have to decide whether any of their activity falls within the boundaries of the new law. If it does they will need to register staff with Government body the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA), which will check if those people are on either list.

Schedule four of the Act defines the activities which will be regulated from October.

"A person moderates a public electronic interactive communication service if, for the purpose of protecting children, he has any function relating to— (a) monitoring the content of matter which forms any part of the service, (b) removing matter from, or preventing the addition of matter to, the service, or (c) controlling access to, or use of, the service. (5) But a person does not moderate a public electronic interactive communications service …unless he has— (a) access to the content of the matter; (b) contact with users of the service.

An ISA spokeswoman said that a person would need to have access to two-way communication with users for the Act to cover their activity. Many interactive online services, though, demand registration, which usually involves the provision of an email address, which would allow two way communication.

The ISA spokeswoman said that it would not proactively regulate the law. "We are not an investigatory agency," she said.

It would be up to social services or the police to follow up any complaints that a barred person was engaging in work covered by the act, an ISA spokesman said. Any organisation that knowingly employed a barred person to perform work which it knew was regulated would be committing a criminal offence, he said.

The law will be phased in and from 12th October this year will only apply to people filling new jobs in regulated areas. It will extend to all 11 million roles connected with children and vulnerable adults over the following five years on a phased basis, but the Government has not yet published the phasing-in programme, the spokeswoman said.

Copyright © 2008, OUT-LAW.com

OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

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