Web porn bid 'may be insufficient'

Hampshire Chronicle: A committee of MPs said seven extra staff might be "woefully insufficient" in a bid to eradicate child abuse images from the internet A committee of MPs said seven extra staff might be "woefully insufficient" in a bid to eradicate child abuse images from the internet

Efforts by the internet industry to eradicate child porn may prove "woefully insufficient", MPs have warned as they called for beefed-up action to improve online safety.

Members of the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) - including Google which contributed £1 million - have funded the recruitment of seven extra full-time staff to track down illegal images.

The move last year to more than double the existing staff came amid severe criticism of internet firms for inaction following a number of child murder cases with porn connections.

Prime Minister David Cameron has spearheaded demands they develop better protections to prevent such abuse and to prevent children accessing legal adult material.

A Commons committee welcomed the commitment by the IWF - which runs a confidential hotline for reporting abuse - to embark on proactive searching for abuse.

But it warned it was "concerned that seven additional staff might prove woefully insufficient to achieve substantial progress towards what must be an important intermediate goal: the eradication of child abuse images from the open internet".

It was one of the conclusions of a review of internet security by the culture, media and sport select committee - which also questioned whether the police had sufficient resources.

It said there was a "clear need to ensure that the police have adequate resources to track down and arrest online paedophiles in sufficient numbers to act as a meaningful deterrent to others.

"If necessary, additional funding should be provided to recruit and train a sufficiently large number of police officers adequate to the task," the cross-party body said.

The ex-head of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (Ceop), Jim Gamble, told the MPs each force should recruit 10 special constables dedicated to the work, costing £1.4 million to set up.

Other recommendations in the committee's report included increasing prosecutions of adult sites that fail to take adequate steps to prevent children getting access to them.

It conceded that enforcing obscenity legislation - which the Government has said it will tighten - was "fraught with difficulty" but said an example should be made of the worst offenders.

Any "particularly harmful" sites should be blocked altogether, it suggested.

The committee also criticised the "flimsy" or non-existent age verification processes used by popular social media sites such at Twitter and Facebook.

Its chair, Tory MP John Whittingdale, said: "Today, one in five 12 to 16-year-olds think being bullied online is part of life.

"That, along with the harm that is done by relatively unfettered access to adult pornography online, represents a failure to protect our children.

"Of course there are difficulties in regulating online content and particularly enforcing that regulation but there are plenty of effective solutions that just need to be seriously applied.

"We do not think there needs to be more regulation, and certainly not to stifle all the positive purposes and uses of the internet, but those who profit from the internet must demonstrate the utmost commitment to protecting children and should be prosecuted and penalised if they don't.

"Facebook and Twitter, for example, are aware of the extent to which their services are accessed by younger children, thanks to age verification processes that are at best flimsy.

"We expect them to pay greater attention to factoring this into the services provided, the content allowed and the access to both.

"The same applies to other social media companies in a similar position. Bullying that takes place in the playground can merge seamlessly with bullying on smart phones and tablets.

"Sometimes this ends with the tragedy of teenage suicide. It is just one reminder that staying safe off-line includes staying safe online too."

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