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Chat rooms targetted by Internet Watch Foundation

A government review of the industry backed Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) has called for greater powers for the organisation to fight child pornography on the Internet.
Written by Jane Wakefield, Contributor

The review, published last month, praised the work done by IWF and recommended its focus be extended to online chat rooms. Chatrooms are increasingly used by paedophiles to entice children into sexually explicit conversations and meetings. David Kerr, chief executive of IWF believes chat rooms are "the next big problem" in the fight against child exploitation on the Internet.

Kerr wants the police to set up a quick response unit to deal solely with Web content, "that way as soon as a report is made, the police can go in there," he said. Such a unit is currently under consideration by the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO). Kerr also believes chat room providers should employ supervisors in chat rooms to monitor what is happening around the clock.

Although the police deny using entrapment methods on the Internet, Kerr thinks officers patrolling the Net could be beneficial in the battle against paedophiles, but does not support the US entrapment tactics, "it may need to be a bit more restricted than in America," he said. The UK legal system takes a dim view of entrapment policies and cases judged to involve ‘agent provocateurs' could be thrown out of court.

Kerr encourages Internet users to help the authorities by reporting suspicious activity in chat rooms although he admitted it is difficult to gauge suspicious behaviour and acknowledged the easy use of subterfuge on the Net.

The IWF has been calling for industry-wide recognition of the dangers of chat rooms since its inception in 1996. Last year it received 2407 reports, of which 447 were judged to contain illegal material. Most of the cases involved child pornography. News groups and bulletin boards are the most likely source for images of child pornography according to Kerr. Although it is difficult to assess how much pornography is available, he believes it is relatively small, with only one in every 1000 news groups carrying illegal material.

If you have information about child pornography on the Web, please contact the IWF Web site.

Next Week ZDNet UK News starts a two part special on pornography on the Internet, looking at how the UK has led Europe in dealing with the problem of child pornography.

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