Government turnaround on paedophile entrapment

Home Office makes a U-turn over online entrapment laws in Britain

The Home Office is considering allowing police to use entrapment in the UK in order to crack down on Internet paedophiles, a government minister claimed Friday.

Responding to Carol Vorderman's unprecedented attack on the government Tuesday for its apathy in protecting children online, Home Office minister Lord Bassam told ZDNet News that the government would now consider introducing entrapment procedures into British legislation.

"There are obvious lessons to be learnt from the US [where entrapement is commonplace], and we need to adopt the best approach wherever it comes from," said Bassam. "We want to ensure that parents can feel free from fear that their children will be corrupted on the Internet -- anything to achieve these objectives we would consider carefully."

Allowing entrapment would grant the police power to mount "sting" operations, allowing them to catch online paedophiles. Currently section 78 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act states that such methods make police "agent provocateurs" and evidence gathered in this way is inadmissible. Article 6 of the EU Convention on Human Rights also outlaws evidence gathered by entrapment.

At a heated debate during the Internet Watch Foundation's (IWF) first parliamentary meeting in the House of Lords Tuesday, Bassam argued that present law was sufficient. "We [the government] are satisfied that the law as it stands does protect children from abuse," he said. The Home Office seems to have abandoned this stance since the seminar, with Bassam's confession that there may be "deficiencies" within UK legislation to deal with Internet paedophiles.

"The government is currently looking at whether entrapment would be appropriate for the UK," confirmed Bassam. He also admitted that a revision of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act may be necessary so that online activity of paedophiles can be stopped before an offline sexual abuse takes place.

The IWF, a government sponsored organisation set up to monitor criminal activity on the Internet, supports the government's new position. "We have been saying as an organisation that with the new situation of Internet chat, the police are perhaps over-restricted by concerns about entrapment and what's permissible in court," said David Kerr, chief executive.

Leading UK feminist Avedon Caroll, however, is in complete opposition to the "panic abuse theories" that are promoting calls for entrapment. "I personally feel that UK law completely oversteps the powers needed to deal with Internet paedophiles," she argued.

"I mistrust the motives of anyone who's involved in this, as it has very little to do with child abuse since most sexual abuse occurs within the home."

Are your children in danger on the Internet? Find out with the Web of Porn Special

Have your say instantly, and see what others have said. Click on the TalkBack button and go to the ZDNet News forum.

Let the editors know what you think in the Mailroom. And read other letters.