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Last Updated: Tuesday, 8 June 2004, 11:04 GMT 12:04 UK
BT acts against child porn sites
Man removing cable from a computer
BT aims to pull plug on illegal websites
BT customers will soon be prevented from accessing websites containing images of child sexual abuse.

The move has been welcomed by child protection bodies but is acknowledged as only a small step in the fight against child pornography on the net.

BT's internet customers will be blocked from viewing websites blacklisted by the Internet Watch Foundation.

While it goes some way to protecting the public, it will have limited impact on paedophiles who use the internet.

Step in right direction

Websites assessed by the IWF as "illegal to view" under the 1978 Child Protection Act will be targeted by the blocking technology that BT plans to implement in the next few weeks.

But paedophiles who use chatrooms and newsgroups to exchange images and prey on youngsters online will be able to continue their activities unabated.

"BT does not pretend that this trial will offer a total solution to this problem, or that BT alone could provide such a solution, but we believe it is an important step in the right direction," said a statement from the telecommunications firm.

The public view it as abhorrent and it has to be remembered that every picture of a child reflects a real child who has been abused
Home Office spokesman
But the IWF has greeted BT's decision as a precedent-setting one.

"To block these sites is technically very complex and expensive," said Fay MacDonald, a spokesperson for the IWF.

She is hopeful that other internet service providers will now follow suit.

BT is in talks with other ISPs and, if the trial of the blocking technology is successful, will extend it to its wholesale customers.

While this could be good news for the public concerned about children stumbling upon such sites, there are still plenty of avenues open for paedophiles wishing to view images of child sexual abuse and contact children directly.

"Minimising the availability of the sites makes it more difficult for the people that are creating these images but it doesn't affect the use of newsgroups and chatrooms," said Ms MacDonald.

The IWF does monitor newsgroups and has a blacklist of these which it forwards to ISPs.

Chatrooms, however, do not fall under its remit and are a "potential grey area" in the fight against the paedophiles, especially those intent on grooming children, with a view to initiating an offline meeting.

This has become a growing problem and one the government has acknowledged with new legislation making online and offline grooming an offence.

Chatroom monitors

The Home Office says it is committed to tackling the problem of online paedophilia but says it is an uphill battle.

"The internet develops on an almost daily basis and we cannot be complacent about the problems," said a Home Office spokesman.

"We support any technical measure that reduces the availability of images of child abuse. The public view it as abhorrent and it has to be remembered that every picture of a child reflects a real child who has been abused," he said.

Monitoring

On the more thorny issue of the use of chatrooms by paedophiles, the Home Office advised parents concerned to contact the police.

"Chatroom are monitored by law enforcement officers," said the spokesman.

The IWF has a different policy.

"We get a lot of enquiries about chat and we direct them to the ISPs," said Ms MacDonald.

SEE ALSO
Children taught about 'grooming'
06 May 04 |  Lancashire
Paedophile loses net ban bid
18 Feb 04 |  Scotland

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