It was all talk and no action - yet

Richard Barry reports on the IDA debate on Internet pornography

Last Monday, the Internet Developers Association, one of at least three organisations attempting to bring order and unity to the Internet community, hosted a debate on the increasingly worrying issue of child pornography on the Internet. The meeting, attended by representatives from UK Internet service providers (ISPs) and the Metropolitan Police, along with journalists, lawyers and feminists, was an attempt to arrive at sensible solutions to the problem.

The meeting served to mend rifts between the Internet community and the Met and allowed the police to re-emphasise the need for collective discussion on the topic. The truth is that the police are as confused as everyone else.

Superintendent Michael Hoskins, who heads up the Clubs and Vice Unit at Charing Cross police station, has the power to close ISPs that have child pornography on their servers, in accordance with the Obscene Publications Act 1959. But the Act is pitifully lacking when it comes to unravelling the intricacies of the Internet, and serves as an ally to the criminals, shielding them with its outdated definitions. In its present form, the 40-year-old Act is seen by many as one of the principle obstacles to arriving at a satisfactory solution.

Nigel Williams, the director of Childnet, wants the law to be modernised "and quickly. What you have to realise is that real children are being affected out there - real lives." Supt Hoskins agreed: "I want the Obscene Publications Act changed and we are working with the Government to achieve that."

While the Government decides what to do with the Act, entrepreneurs are stepping in to offer their own solutions. Peter Dawe, who made his fortune from the ISP Unipalm Pipex (now UUnet Pipex), told the meeting he was setting up the Safety Net Foundation, which would attempt to cut out "99.9 per cent" of child pornography. But Mr Dawe's plans were greeted with scepticism by some attending the debate.

"This isn't a problem you can just throw money at," argued Mr Williams. "It needs informed debate and proper thought."

Mr Dawe admitted that he had come up with the idea just six days earlier, but parried: "I've made a lot of money out of the Internet, it's time to put some back."

Entrepreneurs such as Peter Dawe probably won't be the last to try to halt child pornography on the Internet. Public outcry will bolster such efforts.

But at the end of the debate, one was left feeling that the laws designed to protect children are so inadequate that they will make finding a real solution to the problem of child pornography on the Internet more difficult.

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