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Friday, November 12, 1999 Published at 16:22 GMT


Netting the pornographers

Pornographers are using the Internet more and more

By BBC News Online's Neil Bennett

The Internet is becoming an increasingly popular way of distributing pornography.

It's cheaper than magazines or videos and can reach huge numbers of people quickly.

[ image: Material seized in Operation Cathedral]
Material seized in Operation Cathedral
Policing the Internet for obscene material, particularly paedophilia, is posing growing problems for law enforcers.

Operation Cathedral was launched last year across 15 different countries against the "Wonderland"paedophile ring.

It resulted in autumn 1998 in the largest ever worldwide seizure of paedophile material.

In the UK, 750,000 computer images of children were seized as well as large numbers of CDs, videos and floppy discs.

Eight suspects were charged with conspiracy to distribute indecent images of children.

Dave Hart of NCIS:"A national approach is needed."
Britain's National Criminal Intelligence Unit (NCIS) has called for a dedicated national team to be set up to target illegal Internet pornography.

It would investigate the most serious offences, act as a centre of excellence on cybercrime, and help local forces deal with offenders using sophisticated IT skills.

At the moment, only three police forces in England have units combatting this type of computer crime.

They are in London, Greater Manchester and the West Midlands.

Obscene material involving children is the priority for the police and customs.

[ image:  ]
Despite the difficulties of policing the Internet, offenders can be caught.

During their recent Operation Kimbe, the Greater Manchester Police (GMP) monitored newsgroups suspected of distributing obscene paedophile material.

In just two months, 19 suspects were identified in 15 different force areas from the north of Scotland to the south coast of England.

Police also seized 20,000 obscene images.

Manchester police success

Detective Inspector Terry Jones, of GMP's Obscene Publications Unit, says a pro- active approach brings results.

"A comparatively short time spent monitoring the Internet revealed activities which we might never have found out about.

"If we can convict these people of possessing obscene material, they go on the paedophile register and it is then much easier to watch what they are doing."

Adult problems

[ image: Web watchdogs have to be vigilant]
Web watchdogs have to be vigilant
Different issues are involved with adult pornography.

The Internet is subject to the Obscene Publications Act.

It's an offence to sell or display publicly material likely to deprave or corrupt.

Some Internet users clearly want to reach websites with sexual content but which is not illegal.

The Internet industry is trying to regulate itself through the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF).

It was set up with Home Office approval and has a hotline and e-mail address to deal with complaints.

Help for parents

The IWF regularly tips off the police if they come across websites which break the obscenity laws.

The IWF is also looking at new ways of enabling parents to stop their children viewing undesirable material.

It wants a comprehensive system of classification so that Internet surfers know what sort of things they are about to download.

As more people get on to the Net, the issues around pornography will become more important for regulators and law enforcers.

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