Public sector to take more active role in dealing with illegal activity on the internet

Council managers and civil servants from the North West met recently to hear about how to tackle the problem of paedophiles using...

Council managers and civil servants from the North West met recently to hear about how to tackle the problem of paedophiles using the internet to target vulnerable children.

The conference, organised by the Internet Watch Foundation, aimed to raise awareness in the public sector about how to safeguard against the dangers of the internet and encourage a closer working relationship between the internet industry and public sector organisations.

The IWF, a UK organisation primarily concerned with monitoring and tackling illegal and offensive content on the internet, also runs a hotline where the public can report any illegal material they come across while surfing.

The conference explored many issues, including how those who use the internet to target the vulnerable are becoming more technically skilled to avoid detection.

The potential extent of the problem was highlighted recently in a report by the Cyberspace Research Centre, which conducted a survey of 1,400 children from 42 schools in the UK. It discovered that 20% of children aged between nine and 16 use chatrooms on a regular basis.

Furthermore, more than 50% of the children reported that they have engaged in conversations of a sexual nature; and 25% had received requests to meet up with their correspondents face-to-face. Of the latter group, 10% had accepted and actually met up with someone they had first got to know in a chatroom.

But while these issues are usually associated with children using the internet at home, Ian Dunmore, who helped organise the event, explained how the topic was also relevant to the public sector.

"A lot of councils have social service departments which are linked with the police. They have a role in the community to be aware of these issues," he said. "Now a lot of local authorities are e-enabled, they need to find out the legal issues surrounding their services.

"The government has said that by 2005 the entire public sector should be able to deliver services over the internet. The North West public sector is joining in the rush to become e-enabled."

With the increase in internet use in the public sector, the IWF is working to make people more aware of some of the problems involved in using the internet, particularly the risks to children and the mechanisms for dealing with these problems.

Although Dunmore acknowledged that recent high-profile media cases have made people much more aware, he said it was important that the public sector learns the facts behind the hype.

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