Exclusive: 3G could aid paedophiles, experts warn

3G may be two years away, but experts warn that we need to debate the potential dangers now

Industry experts and clinical psychologists have warned that 3G technology could open up a new channel of abuse for Internet paedophiles while government agencies admit they have not considered the potential dangers the new technology brings.

3G or UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunications System) phones are likely to appear around 2002 with the promise of greatly increased bandwidth and a permanent or "always-on" connection to the Internet. Companies investing in 3G have touted its ability to stream video at up to 384Kbit/s. Demonstrations of 3G technology usually focus on its ability to bring video to handheld devices.

Video, according to one clinical psychologist, will give online paedophiles a new tool: "3G will give you a visual representation of who you are talking to," says Alex Hossack, consultant clinical psychologist at Mersey Forensic Psychology Service.

"There is a fixated paedophile group which has a specific group of children that they are interested in. Some paedophiles home in on visual traits whilst others are attracted by voice. A visual cue can evoke a tactile fantasy... and will help to eliminate children that they aren't interested in."

But video is only half the problem. Hossack explains that there are "four inherent stages in any paedophile attack: desire, disinhibiting their [the child's] conscience, overcoming the victim's resistance, and isolating the child". He believes an always-on connection "is going to make it easy to isolate the child and make them feel safe", by providing a constant or regular link.

Children are already being solicited by paedophiles online who use chatrooms to stalk their victims. In October Patrick Green was sentenced to five years imprisonment for the rape of a 13-year-old girl he met in a Yahoo! chatroom. Expert consensus suggests that 3G technology could exacerbate the dangers seen in the wired world due to its mobility and personalisation.

Some suggest 3G could also allow paedophiles greater access to personal information such as a child's location. Analysts confirm that the 3G network will feature position-based services able to locate users to within ten metres.

Declan Longerman, director of wireless and mobile at industry analyst Yankee Group told ZDNet: "The case that you mention is an extreme scenario, that goes back to the level of control that the end user will have... It's a fair point though, and it would be impossible to say that it [abuse] definitely couldn't happen."

Tim Sheedy, senior telecoms analyst for industry analyst IDC, agrees that 3G could provide opportunities for criminal activity, not just for online paedophiles. "There's going to be a lot of cause for concern about security." He argues that security is generally more robust in the wireless world but acknowledges that "with kids using the devices it makes it even more of a security risk, as they are more likely to make unwise decisions".

Take me to Pt II: Location-based services

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