UK government aims to pull plug on online child abuse

Whitehall has published new guidance designed to protect children using web chatrooms and search engines. The Home Office said it has joined forces with UK internet service providers to develop the guides that aim to create a safer online environment for children when they use moderated chat services or search engines.

The guidance says that providers should offer users a way of reporting material that is illegal or potentially harmful to children, offer content filtering on search engines and manually review and approve websites included in search services aimed at children. ISPs should also consider whether they need human or automatic moderation for chatrooms and ensure that staff who come into contact with children have had relevant Criminal Records Bureau checks.

Publication of the guides coincides with the Protecting Children Online EU/Virtual Global Taskforce conference in Belfast, aimed at getting businesses, law enforcement and experts in the EU and around the world to work together to protect children.

The Virtual Global Taskforce was created in 2003 as a direct response to lessons learned from investigations into online child abuse around the world. It is an international alliance of law enforcement agencies working together to make the internet a safer place.

Investigators, industry figures and child protection specialists from over 20 different countries will share their expertise on limiting access to child abuse images, safeguarding children online and tracking down and protecting children identified in abuse images. Paul Goggins, Home Office minister and chair of the government's Taskforce on Child Protection on the Internet, said: "Countries across the EU and around the world are committed to making the internet safe for children and cracking down on pedophiles' use of the internet. I want to make sure that by working across international boundaries and involving the internet industry, we keep children safe from abuse in the UK and the rest of the world.

"These guides will ensure safer online standards for our children. The internet is a great tool for children with massive benefits for our society, but we know that pedophiles will target children in any setting they can. Our message to them is clear - there is no place for online abuse anywhere in the world, and our police are one step ahead in the fight to protect children," he said.

Peter Robbins of the Internet Watch Foundation added, "Navigating the internet has never been more popular than today. This guidance is an excellent example of significant industry members collaborating in a partnership to protect children from any illegal and offensive content they might come across through use of their services.

"The guidance is aimed at raising awareness amongst parents and carers of children, and setting a benchmark for internet service providers to aspire to," he said.

Goggins also announced the appointment of National Crime Squad Deputy Director Jim Gamble as chief executive of the UK's new Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, which will be operational from April 2006.

The centre will provide a single point of contact for the public, law enforcement and the communications industry to report targeting of children online, and will offer advice and information to parents and potential victims of abuse 24 hours a day. Based in London with up to 100 staff, it will also carry out proactive investigations and work with police forces around the world to protect children.

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