Waging war on paedophiles

The perception is that the media is ever-more frequently reporting on serious paedophile offences.Increasingly, the offenders are found to have accessed the internet to prey on their victims.

Faced with this trend, the Government established a task force in March 2001 to look at making the internet safer for children. The results of its efforts were made public on 6 January with the publication of the Home Office’s Good Practice Models and Guidance for the Internet Industry. The practice models and guidance are being accompanied throughout this month with a £1m advertising campaign across TV, radio and the internet.

The three models are intended to provide practical guidance to providers of internet services covering chat, instant messaging and web-based services. While the models are voluntary, the close co-operation between the Government and the Internet Services Providers’ Association and the Internet Watch Foundation means that there should be near-universal adoption.

The advice on good practice overlaps between the three models. The guidance recommends that providers make it clear what kind of service is on offer and the audience at which it is aimed; build in safety messages designed for parents and children alike; incorporate safety tools such as ensuring means of blocking private chat/instant messaging from chatrooms; and ensure that transparent and effective privacy and data protection self-regulation is in place.

The web good practice model provides guidance for content, connectivity and hosting providers. The model suggests that content providers should check third-party sites to which hyperlinks are made available and provide appropriate warnings that the user is about to go into an “external” site. The model reinforces the Advertising Code and sets out guidance on third-party content and for providers of adult content. Connectivity providers (defined as those companies providing access to the internet) should carry suitable information and warnings about using the internet. Hosting providers (defined as those who provide web space) are set similar terms of reference, including a need to advise users wishing to create their own web pages.

The UK, by introducing these voluntary models, is leading the way in internet self-regulation. Organisations and individuals providing online services, particularly providing services designed for or known to attract children, are well advised to audit the provision of their services in light of these models, if they have not already done so.

Copies of the models can be found at www.wiseuptothenet.co.uk/ho_model.pdf.

Julian Pike is a partner in the media team of Farrer & Co

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