ISPs failing to protect Internet kids

The UK's major ISP trade association says industry is powerless to stop paedophiles using chatrooms

The Internet industry is failing in its ability to protect children from Net paedophiles, according to the industry representative body ISPA (Internet Service Provider Association).

ISPA, was one of the key bodies that helped launch the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) in 1996, with the purpose of making the Web a safe place for children to surf. But Nick Lansman, secretary general of ISPA, now says the industry is powerless to deal with the growing problem of paedophiles abusing children through Internet chatrooms.

Lansman agreed that the industry is impotent on the issue: "The industry is unable to deal with this," he said. "We need the laws to be tightened up and I must concede that statutory regulation is something that needs to be looked at."

He refused to be drawn on the issue of whether the industry should manage chatrooms put up by "responsible" organisations, but said the industry must work with the government and the police to protect children online.

But many Internet Service Providers (ISPs) remain adamant that the self-regulatory "notice and take down" model is successful in dealing with paedophiles operating on the Internet

British telco Thus, owner of Demon Internet, announced last Wednesday its decision to remove known child pornography newsgroups from its servers, amid growing concerns that the industry is teeming with Net paedophiles. Thus, however, has no intention to police illegal content hosted on its servers, and will rely on reports from the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) alerting them to known paedophile sites.

"I do not have the right to police the Internet... It is wrong for society to put the burden on me to police this," said Keith Monserrat, director of legal and regulation. "I don't propose to monitor as it goes against the ethos of this medium -- I would become a censor," he added.

Thus is one of many ISPs using a censorship argument to deny its right to police chatroom content. Ruth Dixon, deputy chief executive of the IWF said, "ISPs have their own terms and conditions -- if they state that they are entitled to remove content, that forms a contract between the provider and their customer and grants the ISP the right to police."

Robin Bynoe, partner at city law firm Charles Russel has examined the terms and conditions offered to Yahoo! and Microsoft chatroom subscribers. He concludes that in both cases the service providers' wording of the registration process is unambiguous. They clearly state that "it is a breach of them to use the chatrooms for a purpose that is unlawful," said Bynoe.

"They provide that the posting of objectionable material is a breach, as is stalking individuals. It seems fairly clear therefore that for a paedophile to use the chatrooms for this purpose would be, apart from anything else, a breach of his contract with the service provider." In agreeing to the terms and conditions, he added, the subscriber is therefore consenting to the policing of content that he posts.

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