Changes to law will protect IT workers investigating net porn

The government has moved to close a loophole in the law that could have led to IT staff being jailed for up to five years for...

The government has moved to close a loophole in the law that could have led to IT staff being jailed for up to five years for viewing or copying files containing child pornography during a legitimate investigation.

New proposals to be included in the forthcoming Sexual Offences Bill will allow IT staff and internet service providers to remove or copy illegal images from the internet without risking prosecution if it is in the course of an investigation.

Making copies of indecent images of children is illegal under the Protection of Children Act 1978 and, until now, there has been no defence in law for IT staff investigating company systems.

Richard Starnes, vice-president of the Information Systems Security Association, said the new proposals would give IT professionals more certainty when conducting investigations.

"If investigators who were looking into a case were found to have child pornography linking to the case on their systems, it is unlikely they would have faced prosecution," he said. "But that is the sort of thing that gives corporate lawyers sleepless nights, so it is better to be in black and white."

However, the proposals do not take into account IT staff viewing child pornography by accident, warned Starnes.

"One of the things with the law is that there is no mens rea [intent] required for prosecution," he said. "It never hurts to talk to your corporate lawyer before starting these investigations."

ISP group London Internet Exchange (Linx), which made representations to the Home Office to change the Bill last month, welcomed the new proposals.

"Until now, we have had to choose to either leave the images online while the police made copies to use as evidence, or remove them immediately and risk prejudicing a prosecution," said Malcolm Hutty, regulation officer at Linx.

The 1978 Act needed to be updated because modern crime reporting methods, such as e-mail or even floppy discs, inherently involve creating a copy, Hutty said. IT and ISP staff could risk up to 10 years in prison just for e-mailing an illegal image to the police, he said.

"A systems administrator who investigates a complaint about child pornography on a website hosted by an ISP could face prosecution if they moved the images to another location to preserve evidence for a police investigation," Hutty said.

"It is even a crime for ISP staff to call the police in and show them an illegal image because copying the image to the screen is itself illegal."

Read more on IT jobs and recruitment

Start the conversation

Send me notifications when other members comment.

Please create a username to comment.

-ADS BY GOOGLE

SearchCIO

SearchSecurity

SearchNetworking

SearchDataCenter

SearchDataManagement

Close