Thursday, April 3, 2008

Sex offenders face net use curbs

Sex offenders face net use curbs

Sex offenders' e-mail addresses are to be passed to social networking sites like Facebook and Bebo to prevent them contacting children.

Offenders who do not give police their address - or give a false one - already face up to five years in jail.

Websites would be expected to monitor the e-mail address usage or block them accessing the sites.

Other measures in new government guidelines include a "kitemark" for filtering software.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said she wanted children to be "free from fear".

However, BBC home affairs correspondent Danny Shaw said ministers admitted that details of the system are still to be worked out, including how would it work with websites based abroad over which the UK has no jurisdiction.

'Working together'

The new government guidance comes after the telecoms regulator Ofcom talked to 5,000 adults and 3,000 children and found 49% of those aged between eight and 17 had a profile on social networking sites such as MySpace, Facebook and Bebo.

It found 41% of the children it questioned had their profile set so anyone, rather than just friends, could view it. The recent Byron review also found 31% of those aged between nine and 19 who used the net weekly had received sexual comments via e-mail, instant message, chat or text message.

Announcing the new guidelines, the home secretary said: "I want to see every child living their lives free from fear, whether they are meeting friends in a youth club or in a chat room.

"We are working together with police, industry and charities to create a hostile environment for sex offenders on the internet and are determined to make it as hard for predators to strike online as in the real world."

The Social Networking Guidance contains recommendations for service providers and safety advice for first-time users.

They also include:

  • Arrangements for the industry and law enforcement agencies to share reports of potentially illegal activity and suspicious behaviour
  • Making it more difficult for people registered over the age of 18 to search for users under the age of 18
  • Encouraging children not to provide excessive information about themselves

Chief Executive of the Child Exploitation Online Protection Agency Jim Gamble said the guidance had the "real potential to accelerate online child protection".

"It will provide parents with those crucial indicators as to which sites and providers they should be using, allowing children the chance to get on and enjoy the full benefits of the internet with vital reassurance," he said.

Social networking guidance


Q&A: Children and safer net use
02 Apr 08 | Technology

Children flock to social networks
02 Apr 08 | Technology

When online friends spell danger
22 Oct 07 | Education

I was falsely branded a pedophile'

Simon Bunce's credit card details were stolen while online shopping

By Marc Sigsworth

With ID fraud on the rise, the assumption is you'll lose money which can be claimed back. But Simon Bunce lost his job, and his father cut off contact, when he was arrested after an ID fraudster used his credit card details on a child porn website.

Simon Bunce used to be a keen internet shopper, delighted to escape the hordes and have goods delivered to his door. Wary of fly-by-night operators, he bought only from big name retailers with secure websites.

But then, four years ago, he was astonished to find himself embroiled in Operation Ore, the UK's largest ever police hunt against internet pedophile. He was arrested on suspicion of possession of indecent images of children, downloading indecent images of children and incitement to distribute indecent images of children.

Hampshire Police took away his computer and data storage devices including flash drives, CDs and floppy disks, as well as examining the computer and storage devices that he used at work.

The effect was devastating. When his employers became aware of the reason he had been arrested, he was abruptly dismissed from his £120,000 a year job, and close members of his family disowned him. "I made the mistake of telling my father, and he cut me off," Mr Bunce says. "He then told all my siblings and they also cut us off."

Suddenly deprived of his income, Mr Bunce had to consider selling the family home. But his wife, Kim, stuck by him, and supported his mission to clear his name.

Mr Bunce knew he was innocent - he had never downloaded indecent images, and so he knew that the police would not find any evidence on the computers or storage devices they had taken away.

But the police's computer technicians take several months to examine these, and Mr Bunce could not afford to wait to repair the damage done to his reputation. "I knew there'd been a fundamental mistake made and so I had to investigate it."

Identity fraud occurs when personal information is used by someone else to obtain credit, goods or other services fraudulently. Recent surveys suggest that as many as one in four Britons have been affected by it. In 2007 more than 185,000 cases of identity theft were identified by Cifas, the UK's fraud prevention service, an increase of almost 8% on 2006.

Tarnished name

Operation Ore targeted suspected pedophile believed to have been downloading indecent images of children, those whose credit card details had been used to buy pornography via an American portal called Landslide - the gateway site and central credit card handler for hundreds of websites. Hundreds of successful prosecutions ensued, with extensive media coverage given to high profile suspects, including actor Chris Langham of The Thick of It.

As Landslide was based in the United States and under investigation there, Mr Bunce was able to use the US Freedom of Information Act to obtain a complete copy of all of the relevant material, including databases, access logs and credit card information, together with detailed information of the webmasters, which allowed him to find out how his credit card details had been used.

Each computer has a unique internet protocol number, or IP address, which identifies the specific computer and its geographic whereabouts whenever it is used to access the internet.

Mr Bunce discovered that the computer used to enter his credit card details was in Jakarta, Indonesia, and the date and time that his credit card details were entered onto the Landslide website was at a time when he could prove that he was using the same card in a restaurant in south London.

"I can't be in two places at once, so somehow my data had got to the man in Indonesia."

He was also able to discover that his credit card details had been obtained from a popular online shopping site, but he doesn't know how these came to be in the hands of a criminal.

The man responsible for using his credit card details hid behind the online name "Miranda" - a webmaster who hosted and produced pornographic websites and received a commission from Landslide for subscriptions to his website which were paid by credit card. "Miranda" had used Mr Bunce's credit card details - without his knowledge - to take out a subscription to one of his websites.

Cash convert

In September 2004, the police told Mr Bunce they would not proceed with any action against him. They had not found indecent material, and accepted that it wasn't him who had entered his credit card details on the Landslide website. It took another six months before he got another job, earning a quarter of the salary he'd earned before his arrest.

Mr Bunce has also reconciled with his family, having explained to them how he came to be implicated and then cleared. Are bygones bygones? "I've forgiven them [my family] - there's no point in bearing a grudge."

Four years on, he is bringing a High Court action against the shopping website for allowing his personal details to be compromised. So no more internet shopping? "No, no, no. Once bitten, twice shy," says Mr Bunce, who now sells encryption services.

"I wouldn't say that I live in the cash economy now, but I'd rather go to the bank to withdraw money to buy petrol, as you hear of card details being harvested at garages. I'm paranoid about data security. I shred everything, I never use credit cards anymore.

"Being arrested and accused of what is probably one of the worst crimes known to man, losing my job, having my reputation run through the mud, it's a living nightmare."

Marc Sigsworth is the producer of BBC One's Identity Fraud: Outnumbered.