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Wednesday, 7 November, 2001, 17:09 GMT
Accessing web's forbidden knowledge
school computer room
School pupils have ready access to computers
The plight of four schoolboys who tried to make ecstasy from a recipe found on the internet, shows how easily children can get dangerous information from the web, writes BBC News Online's Christine McCarthy.

Searching for information on drugs on the internet can produce dozens of helplines, advice groups and abuse help but it can also lead to the drugs themselves.

The case of four schoolboys - expelled from a leading Scottish school after experimenting with ecstasy - has demonstrated the ease with which the internet can be abused by youngsters.

Drug campaigners are continually urging parents and school teachers to carefully monitor the internet access open to their children.

Alaistair Ramsey, director of Scotland Against Drugs, said it took him less than 10 minutes to find a site which described how to make ecstasy.

"You do not need a huge amount of skill to find these sites, they are there among the legitimate organisations and if you can acquire the ingredients you can make the drug," he said.

The one barrier is having a good knowledge of chemistry and compounds, he added.

Parents: Be aware

Mr Ramsey said what surprised him most was the ability of the pupils to acquire amphetamine.

"If it was ecstasy they made they would have needed to get this element from drug dealers. Very often substances used for making drugs can only be accessed through criminal means.

"Parents and teachers should watch what they let children use and know what they are accessing on the net."

Five years ago, the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) was created as a watchdog on the internet by the Internet Service Providers Association.

Primarily the IWF monitors the web for sites covering child pornography and incitement to racial hatred but it does also concern itself sites on drug and even bomb-making.

David Kerr, chief executive, said the measures they could take against drug and bomb-making sites were not straightforward.

"If the information on the site has come from a book or publication which itself is not illegal - and there are such books such as the Anarchist's Cookbook - there is no legal requirement to take it off."

But he suggested there were ways that parents, guardians or teachers could help prevent children accessing sites.

Content filters

The service providers have their own guidelines and can ask that the site authors take down the material, the IWF or police or other authority can also make representations.

The third way is for internet users to install a filter on the computer to prevent their youngsters having access to dangerous or explicit sites.

Filtering software prevents internet users browsing certain pages - with individual pages or pages containing certain keywords being screened out.

"It may be that the site is hosted overseas and there could be a problem trying to find the relevant authority in that country," Mr Kerr warned.

For more information on prevention filters and the IWF contact their website on www.iwf.org.uk and access the safe surfing pages.

See also:

19 Feb 00 | Education
Children warned against net predators
11 Oct 99 | Education
Net porn warning for pupils
10 Jul 01 | Education
Primary pupils view porn website
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