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Last Updated: Tuesday, 30 August 2005, 16:17 GMT 17:17 UK
Can adult net porn crackdown work?
By Margaret Ryan
BBC News

Accessing extreme adult pornography over the internet could become illegal under proposed new legislation.

Offenders could face up to three years in jail - but how difficult would it be to enforce such legislation?

Jane Longhurst
Jane Longhurst's murder sparked a campaign to close porn sites
Campaigners have long argued for violent pornographic sites to be shut down, chief among them Liz Longhurst whose daughter Jane was killed two years ago by a man obsessed with violent internet sexual pornography.

But it has been argued it would be impossible to shut down these sites because most are hosted outside the UK and are not covered by this jurisdiction.

The new legislation would turn its attention to individuals who download the most violent pornography.

Police resources

The police have broadly welcomed the new proposals saying currently opportunities for prosecution only exist when links to such sites are found in this country.

Dave Johnston, ACPO spokesman on sexual crime, said: "We are not trying to criminalise more people, we are trying to reduce the supply and demand."

There are always going to be people who can circumvent the legislation but it might deter a few people
Kim Gilmour, Computing Which?

He accepts there will be a hardcore of people who will continue to pursue their "depraved" activities but said the police had the resources to pursue them through covert and overt actions.

But the Police Federation of England and Wales, while supporting the legislation, has voiced concern about how it will be enforced.

Vice chairman Alan Gordon said: "This legislation would entail sites being constantly monitored in the same way paedophile sites are. There is a question mark over what the police service on its own is resourced to do."

He said the law needed to be clear in its terminology to avoid legal arguments over the definition of violent pornography.

Child porn

Concern has also been raised over whether people will just find new ways to avoid prosecution.

Kim Gilmour, senior researcher for the magazine Computing Which?, said: "You need to address how this material comes to be online in the first place."

Porn site
The new law would mirror anti-child porn legislation
She said there were many ways in which people could "cover their tracks."

"They borrow techniques from hackers, using file-sharing software and exchanging information through using codewords and encryption."

She continued: "There are always going to be people who can circumvent the legislation but it might deter a few people."

At present UK-based websites and other distributors face prosecution under the Obscene Publications Act 1959 but the government has argued the internet has made it easier for individuals to get hold of this material.

The proposals suggest how the law could be changed to mirror existing rules on child pornography, under which possession as well as publication of an image of an abused child is an offence.

A Home Office press officer said: "The number of convictions is expected to be small but the message this sends out is what society regards as acceptable."

Global effect

Internet Watch, the net watchdog which runs a UK hotline for reporting illegal content, works with service providers (ISPs), the government and police to have such material removed.

Spokeswoman Fay Macdonald said: "So many of these sites are hosted outside the UK which has made the police investigation so difficult.

"The law on child abuse images is very clear. It is illegal to possess, look at and distribute them.

"Adult pornography is difficult to govern because of factors such as the global nature of the internet and the range of legislation and attitudes."

She said any new legislation would be challenging.

"Will there be levels of categorising material as there is with child abuse?," she said.

Material 'repulsive'

ISPs are only liable for prosecution under any existing legislation if they become aware of illegal material and do not remove it.

But not everyone is convinced new legislation would be a positive development.

Dr Chris Evans, founder of the group Internet Freedom, said: "It will be easier to find people you wish to prosecute.

"But the idea that it might prevent violent sexual acts is without basis."

No definite link has been established between access to these sites and violence but the consultation document states it believes such material may encourage or reinforce interest in violent sexual activity.

And it says public concern has been raised about the availability of such material in the aftermath of teacher Miss Longhurst's murder.

Dr Evans said: "Most people find this material repulsive. They don't need the government, police, or Internet Watch to tell them. People should be able to make up their own mind."

One of the cases that prompted the crackdown

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30 Aug 05 |  Have Your Say
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