Last week's news that a 33-year-old man had behaved indecently with a teenage girl after contacting her via an online chat room reignited the debate about safety of children on the Internet. The debate was played out in radio phone-ins and the tabloid press, with many people calling for increased policing of the Internet and restrictions on the access children should have.
Issues such as this have a direct bearing on the success of e-business in the UK. If trust and confidence in the Internet are not engendered, the general public will never view it with anything other than suspicion.
Knee-jerk calls for greater policing of the Internet are largely worthless. The reality - however unpalatable it may be - is that we will never be able to fully police a liberal, open environment which provides information on every conceivable topic, just as we will never be able to eradicate the types of people who prey on children.
What we can do though, is create havens, with tightly controlled access where children can communicate safely and swap information.
This is important. Today's children are tomorrow's customers. The technology to create the frameworks that facilitate completely safe environments already exist, and it is possible to create places where only appropriate members are allowed access.
Contrary to public belief, young people do care about who and what they encounter on the Web. Maybe the scaremongers aren't aware of this.
And these same young people have spent their time since this incident educating their parents, telling them that the Internet is not as perilous a place as they might think it is.
Nabil Shabka is chief executive officer of schoolmaster.net
This was first published in November 2000