40 year old law puts children at risk

Lords' debate corners government on activities of paedophiles online as the Home Office defends a law passed in 1960 which it insists can deal with the Internet

The Home Office has been challenged to explain how a forty year old law, designed to protect children from indecent assault, can cope with the Internet and specifically chat rooms.

Tory peer Baroness Blatch challenged the Home Office to elucidate on exactly how the Indecency with Children Act of 1960, is able to deal with paedophiles operating on the Internet. On Monday the Home Office told ZDNet that "The government has no current plans to amend the laws relating to entrapment."

That stance, says Blatch, is dated and is putting children child at risk.

She has proposed the introduction of a clause to the existing law stating that: "Any person who knowingly employs, uses, persuades, induces, entices or coerces a child to engage in an act of gross indecency with or towards any child...is guilty of an offence.

"The law is not as strong as it should be to catch people who have evil intent in using technology," argued Blatch.

Her proposal contradicts the government's claim that existing legislation is sufficient to deal with the online enticement of children. She also disputes the government's attitude that the police were happy with the sentencing of Patrick Green. Police were unable to sentence him under the Indecency with Children Act for the abduction he pleaded not guilty to. No abduction charges were brought against Green even though he travelled more than 200 miles to meet the girl with clear sexual intent.

"The government would be crazy not to take this opportunity to strengthen the law. The amendment would go a long way towards doing so," said Blatch. The amendment would seek to deal with a chatroom predator before the crime becomes an offline sexual assault. "The intention of bringing about such a situation should be a crime in itself," she added.

The Home Office remains determined that legislation is technology neutral, despite their recent haste to rush the controversial Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) through Parliament last month.

"The Home Office is not appreciating how the world has moved on--they should be more concerned about the evil uses of technology. We now have may examples of people using the Internet to lure children into sexual acts -- paedophiles are the most sophisticated users of the Internet, and we have a golden opportunity to change the laws to catch them," Blatch told ZDNet.

The Home Office is currently awaiting recommendations from the Internet Crime Forum -- a coalition of the police, industry and government -- before responding to Blatch's proposal. A source close to the pending report has however stated that it contains no mention of a change in legislation.

Attendance in the House of Lords was too low to press the proposal to a vote Tuesday. The final reading of the amendment is expected to take place on 8 November.

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