Government widens net of responsibility for kids

Home Office accepts chatroom responsibilities stretch wider than ISPs

The Home Office admitted at a cybercrime summit on Wednesday that it is no longer appropriate for Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to be held solely responsible for child protection on the Internet, and is calling for computer manufacturers and retailers to a play a role in cracking down on Net paedophiles.

Plans for a new taskforce were unveiled at the lunchtime summit. It will be responsible for implementing recommendations in the government-backed Internet Crime Forum report Chat Wise, Street Wise, released last Tuesday. Home secretary Jack Straw has invited representatives from the Internet industry, child welfare organisations, the police and government to join the forum, and for the first time has acknowledged the need for computer manufacturers and vendors to become involved and accept some responsibility.

"At last the message is getting through that the Internet industry is much broader than ISPs," said Nigel Williams, director of Childnet International. "Home computer sales are directly driven by use of the Internet. PC retailers need to be brought into the loop and look at the role they should be playing in promoting Internet safety."

The Home Office is considering including safe surfing packs as standard when a computer is bought. If a manufacturer suggests that it would be commercially viable to market a child-friendly PC, we would also consider that," said a Home Office spokesperson. David Kerr, chairman of the Internet Watch Foundation is keen for retailers to be informed about the dangers of Internet chat, and suggests that computers be sold with preloaded software filters.

"I would recommend the provision of free filtering software and prominent safety information," said Williams. "It should be good practical advice that is simple and memorable, and there when you enter the package."

John Carr, Internet consultant at NCH Action for Children, explains that historically ISPs have always been held solely responsible for protecting children from unlawful content on the Internet. "The degree of industry responsibility has been rightly shifted to cover computer manufacturers and retailers, since most of these companies are creating the reason for children to go on the Internet in the first place."

The next taskforce meeting has been scheduled for July. Straw will chair the summit, and review the body's success at implementing recommendations made in the ICF report. The Home Office will also be assessing how ISPs have responded to last week's challenge to monitor all chatrooms specifically targeted at children.

Despite recognising the role that PC manufacturers should play in cracking down on cybercrime, he stated, "the Internet industry itself has an important role to play, as its representatives were happy to acknowledge at this meeting. I welcome the assistance that the industry already provides to the police in the course of their investigations, and trust today's agreement will build on this partnership to create a safer and more secure online environment for our children."

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