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Last Updated: Wednesday, 26 January, 2005, 16:40 GMT
Blogging 'a paedophile's dream'
Legislation is being formed to tackle online grooming
Online journals and camera phones are a "paedophiles' dream" which have increased the risk to children, the Scottish Parliament has been warned.

The Justice 1 Committee is examining a bill to create the specific offence of "grooming" and bringing in 10-year jail terms for meeting children for sex.

A forensic psychologist spoke about the dangers of online journals, or blogs, and pictures posted directly online.

Rachel O'Connell said adults could use weblogs to learn about children.

Dr O'Connell said that the emergence of moblogs - mobile weblogs - allowed even faster transfer of pictures to the internet using mobile telephones with cameras.

You have children uploading pictures, giving out details of their everyday life because it's an online journal
Dr Rachel O'Connell
Forensic psychologist

She said: "This is just a paedophile's dream because you have children uploading pictures, giving out details of their everyday life because it's an online journal."

The psychologist, whose research and work with police and other agencies has included posing as a child on internet newsgroups, said predatory adults could use an RSS feeder program - a syndication tool - to be instantly e-mailed any picture when it was added to a blogging site.

"The parameters of grooming are now about to alter whereby they don't necessarily have to have contact with the child," she said.

'New dimension'

Dr O'Connell is director of research at Central Lancashire University's Cyberspace Research Unit.

She described a scenario where a group of paedophiles could exchange information on a child's movement, potentially leading to an abduction.

"This is what we're facing, in that situation you have no prior contact with the child," she added.

Labour committee convener Pauline McNeill said: "It takes it to a whole new dimension for us - I'm beginning to wonder if we've really begun to tackle the protection of children with the bill before us."

'No guidance'

Ms McNeill said the committee may have to consider issues beyond the current bill, a view echoed by Nationalist and Tory members.

Dr O'Connell said there was "absolutely no internet safety information or guidance whatsoever" on most blogging sites as their whole point was about giving out personal information.

"It's going to become a huge issue," she said.

She backed the Protection of Children and Prevention of Sexual Offences (Scotland) Bill, but also urged greater collaboration between law enforcement and technology developers and more parental information.

Deputy Justice Minister Hugh Henry said ministers and the public wanted to be sure the law was "robust".

"We want to ensure that our laws allow for early intervention to help prevent predatory sex offenders targeting and abusing children," he told MSPs.

"The provisions in this bill will ensure that the police and procurators fiscal have a robust package of measures to deal with predatory sex offenders before they go on to commit physical assaults on children and other victims."


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