Internet industry rejects child-porn blame

A U.K. children's charity has warned that the Internet is making pornographic images of children more easily available - but the industry argues that it is involved in catching the culprits

A U.K. children's charity has warned that the Internet is making pornographic images of children more easily available - but the industry argues that it is involved in catching the culprits

A report released on Monday by British children's charity NCH has put the blame for the dramatic rise in child-porn offences down to the Internet.

Since the late 1980s, the number of child-porn offenders in the U.K. has risen by 1,500 percent -- from just 35 arrested in 1988 to 548 in 2001. The report's author, NCH Internet consultant John Carr, believes the link between the rise in paedophile porn crimes and internet usage is more than just a coincidence.

He believes that the relative ease which an Internet user can acquire images of child pornography has inspired individuals who may have had paedophile urges but never previously acted on them to acquire pornographic images.

"The Internet has allowed people with latent or suppressed interest in those issues to do something. Before the invention of the Internet, it was difficult to get hold of these images," he said. "It's a conduit, not an actor in its own right."

However, according to Carr, the real danger could be 3G phones. He believes that whereas with 'fixed' Internet, accessed typically by sitting at a PC, children's usage can be monitored by parents or teachers, with mobile Internet phones children can use them anywhere and enter chatrooms without similar parental safeguards.

Still, despite a request for more action from ISPs, Carr told silicon.com that parents themselves have a part to play in keeping their children safe. "Parents have the same responsibility, as in every area of their children's lives, to keep their children safe," he told silicon.com in a separate interview.

The Internet industry rejects accusations of encouraging paedophilia. A spokesman for AOL told silicon.com: "It's like saying the existence of cars causes road accidents when it's actually the [bad] driving that causes them."

The Internet Service Providers Association (ISPA) also believes that the finger is being pointed at the industry unfairly. The organisation said in a statement that "were it not for the assistance the Internet industry offers law enforcement agencies, the police would not have been as successful as they have been in arresting individuals who have been distributing or downloading images of child abuse."

The industry isn't resting on its laurels, however. AOL's spokesman said: "I don't think we should be complacent -- we can always be doing more" to stop the internet paedophiles."

Nevertheless, the very nature of paedophile porn on the Internet may prove a challenge for ISPs. The Internet Watch Foundation, an industry group set up to tackle the problem of child pornography, found that 54 percent of the images reported to them were located in the US and a further 24 percent in Russia – putting them out of the jurisdiction of British police and beyond the reach of UK ISPs.

Carr believes that the ISPs' work, however, has made a contribution to tracking down the criminals: "It's part of the paradox -- the Internet has made it possible for paedophiles to get hold of the material but at the same time it's made it easier for police to track them down and nick them," but maintains that the industry should hold its hands up to playing a part in paedophilia.

"Is it possible the Internet has changed nothing? Yes, it's a theoretical possibility that the Internet has had no effect but when you look at the evidence it's just not a tenable explanation," he said.

Silicon.com's Jo Best reported from London.

Newsletters

You have been successfully signed up. To sign up for more newsletters or to manage your account, visit the Newsletter Subscription Center.
See All
See All