Obscenity laws to be extended to computers: Pornography loophole targeted

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The Independent Online
COMPUTER pornography is to be banned under new proposals put forward yesterday by Michael Howard, the Home Secretary.

The proposals, to be included in the Criminal Justice Bill currently before Parliament, are aimed at plugging loopholes in obscenity laws which have allowed computer porn to be distributed by telephone lines and through electronic bulletin boards.

Mr Howard's announcement was welcomed by the Police Federation and chief police officers yesterday. But some members of the Home Affairs Select Committee, which has been studying computer pornography for several months, were angry that the Home Secretary pre-empted their report due to be published next week.

Gerry Bermingham, a Labour member of the committee, said: 'I find it very sad and short-sighted that when a committee has been preparing a report for some time at the request of the Home Office, that the minister feels it necessary to pre-empt its findings.'

Another member said: 'The timing was extremely impolite. We have been researching this subject for some time with the encouragement of the Home Office. Just as we are about to announce our recommendations, Michael Howard nips in with his. The Americans would describe it as influencing people without making friends.'

Senior police officers have been arguing that the law needed to be changed to cover the spread of sophisticated still and moving pornographic images sent between computers.

The proposals, expected to be in line with the select committee's, were welcomed by the Association of Chief Police Officers. A spokesman said it would help catch criminals operating in grey areas.

Under them, the legal meaning of 'publication' in the Obscene Publications Act 1959 would be re-defined to include the electronic transmission of obscene material between computers. It would become a criminal offence to transmit such material through computer bulletin boards or private links.

The terms 'video work' and 'video recording' would be re-defined under the Video Recordings Act 1984, to include moving images electronically stored on computer chips and cartridges. The Government has already disclosed measures which would make it clear that computer images are covered in the same way as photographic images.

Mr Howard said: 'Those who trade in pornography are always seeking new ways to distribute their vile material, exploiting new technology and challenging the law whenever possible. I am determined to do all I can to frustrate their efforts at every opportunity. These proposals will help to prevent pornographers side-stepping the law.'

To enforce the proposals, police will be given increased powers to search premises and seize obscene material, and to arrest child pornography dealers without a warrant. Trading Standards officers will also be given increased powers to act.