A time for proper action

Angela SmithAngela Smith on the urgent need to deal with the widespread viewing of child abuse images

Recent weeks have seen a series of shocking admissions by the police and experts that tens of thousands of people each year access, view and exchange child pornography via the Internet. Worse still, it has highlighted the alarming gulf between the public’s expectation of how the police should deal with this appalling activity and how little is being done to tackle it.

While most people are aware that this dreadful activity goes on, the illegal pornography being looked at is so horrific and distressing that few could ever contemplate how widespread the problem is. But just a few days ago, the leading police expert on tackling the issue in the UK spoke out.  Peter Davies, Chief Executive Office of the Child Exploitation and On-line Protection Centre told ITV that up to 60,000 people are involved in downloading such images. This is the first time that such a senior police officer has been so candid about the scale of the problem and the difficulty in tackling it within the resources available to the police.

The unique IP addresses of the computers used are apparently known, and in the majority of cases the names and homes addresses of those responsible can be identified. Mr Davies made it clear that he would arrest them all, “if I had the time and capacity”, but he can’t. Such are the numbers now regularly looking at these images, there appears to have been a seismic change in the type and volume of images available on the internet – many involving sexual images and abuse of children under 10.

Today, at Lords daily question time, I shall be asking Home Office Ministers what information they have on the total number of individuals who have downloaded child abuse images, and how many have been charged. 

Whilst much of the debate has focused on action that could be taken by Internet service providers to block such material, government must be prepared to intervene if action isn’t forthcoming.  The Internet Watch Foundation already alerts search engines to illegal sites, but we need to see a far more proactive approach. The industry should be making safe searches the default rather than expecting individuals to download filters themselves.

There is much more that the technology companies and search engines can do. If they are unable or unwilling to make significant progress soon, Labour will support Ministers in taking urgent action to force them to do so.

Baroness Angela Smith of Basildon is a Shadow Home Office Minister in the Lords

Published 4th June 2013

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