Exclusive: Case sets precedent for Internet crime

Court ruling means that UK law can put the bite on British Net pornographers -- even if they locate their servers outside the country.

The fight against Internet porn was given a major boost Monday with the conclusion of a precedent-setting case at Southwark Crown Court in London.

Graham Waddon, a 29-year-old businessman from Surrey was given an 18-month suspended sentence for running the UK's largest porn operation from servers located in America. Until now, it was unclear whether individuals could be prosecuted for distributing pornography if their servers were outside the UK. In a landmark ruling Judge Christopher Hardy ruled the images were uploaded from the UK and were therefore subject to British law.

Commenting on the sentence, the Metropolitan Police head of vice and clubs unit, Chief Superintendent Martin Jauch said: "The judge made it very clear that if it hadn't been for his medical condition [Waddon has chronic hypothyroidism] he would have gone to prison."

Despite the suspended sentence, Jauch is confident the ruling will send out the right messages to Net pornographers who think having servers based outside the UK will protect them from British law. "It will now be more difficult for people to set up Web sites like this," he said.

Another spokeswoman for the police welcomed the ruling for showing the Internet "can be policed", despite jurisdiction issues. Michael Reay, police sergeant at the Metropolitan Clubs and Vice Unit heralded the ruling as "an incredible precedent".

Charging UK customers £25 a month for access to sites like Farmsex and Schoolgirls-R'us, Waddon thought he would escape prosecution, but as David Kerr, chief executive of the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) put it: "Cases we assumed would be dealt with in the country of origin can now be dealt with by UK courts."

While media attention focuses on today's legal precedent, police are heralding another ruling as potentially more significant: Waddon's defence claimed the evidence against him was inadmissible because it was gathered from a UK computer rather than from the server it originated from. Under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, every computer involved in a crime needs to have a certificate to prove it was working properly when the crime was committed. Judge Hardy ruled that this would have involved hundreds of computers across the world, something he described as an "impossible task" for police.

Jauch believes Hardy's ruling has huge implications for fighting Internet crime. "The Judge found that only the seized computer needed a certificate. If we had lost this argument, any Internet-based crime or crime relying on a large scale network would have been lost," he said.

The National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS) is calling for an update to the Police and Criminal Evidence Act.

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