Select Committee on Science and Technology Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 197 - 199)



  Q197  Chairman: Welcome everybody, particularly our witnesses today. I would like to welcome Mr Wright back and Mr Gamble and Miss Girling, and welcome members of the public who are attending this session. There is a document available that describes this inquiry. I am Lord Broers and I am Chairman of the Committee. Everybody should note that we are being webcast today, just for your information. If we could start with our witnesses please introducing yourselves and then, if you wish, making a short statement. Shall we start with you Mr Wright?

  Mr Wright: Good afternoon. My name is Tim Wright from the Computer Crime Team in the Home Office.

  Mr Gamble: My name is Jim Gamble and I am the Chief Executive of the Child Exploitation and On-line Protection Centre and I am the Association of Chief Police Officers lead for countering child abuse on the Internet.

  Ms Girling: I am Sharon Girling and I am a Law Enforcement Officer from SOCA and I work within CEOP.

  Q198  Chairman: Would you like to make an opening statement?

  Mr Wright: Just briefly. The Internet offers real educational and social benefits to children, as well as being a source of entertainment and helping develop skills they will need in the future. The Government is committed to ensuring that they can exploit those benefits safely. To do this, the Home Secretary set up in 2001 a Task Force to bring together Government, law enforcement, industry and child protection organisations to work on child protection on the Internet. That partnership approach has been effective over those years and in that time has delivered good practice for different companies that provide a variety of on-line services: chat; moderated chat; instant messaging; web-based services; and most recently social networking services. It has very nearly delivered a BSI kitemark for products to help parents manage how their children use the Internet. It has delivered training packages for police, prison, probation and social work professionals. It has delivered various public awareness campaigns aimed at parents and children to identify the risks and provide practical advice on how to manage them. The UK ISPs and the Internet Watch Foundation have effectively ended the hosting of websites containing illegal images of child abuse in the UK and the majority of the biggest broadband and 3G mobile network operators have put in place technical measures to stop UK customers accessing these websites when they are hosted abroad. Obviously the biggest development over those years has been the creation of CEOP which we will talk about. The Government set up CEOP to build on that partnership approach and to deliver a step change improvement in our operational capacity to protect children.

  Mr Gamble: I do not wish to add anything just simply to associate myself with the comments that Mr Wright has already made.

  Ms Girling: And I the same.

  Q199  Chairman: We were told by the Government in November the importance of individuals taking personal responsibility for their own Internet security. Who is responsible for protecting children on the Internet?

  Mr Wright: It is a shared responsibility in exactly the way as off-line safety is, and that underlines part of the partnership approach I mentioned. Obviously the Government has an overarching responsibility to provide a framework of legislation and agencies to ensure that everything possible is done. Law enforcement and the National Offender Management Service have a responsibility to reduce crime, to investigate offenders and to manage the risks those offenders pose in the community. Any company or individual providing a service to children has a responsibility to ensure that their children can use that service safely. Finally parents themselves and children have a responsibility to make sure they are safe. As professionals, I think we have a responsibility to help parents and children in this, through ensuring that on-line services have clear links to safety advice and how to report abuse but also by raising awareness of the risks and providing practical advice. Over the last five years a number of organisations have delivered awareness and advice both to parents and to children. We have worked to ensure that these efforts are consistent and complementary as well as running our own campaigns. While the services that children use change over time, the three key underlying messages remain the same. Firstly it is more difficult to check out who you are talking to on-line than it is off-line and there are people out there who will exploit that. This is particularly important when children think about meeting on-line friends in the real world. Secondly, personal information you give out or a child gives out can then be used to contact them in a way later on that they cannot then control. And finally parents need to engage as much as they can in the way that their children use the Internet, both to understand what the children are doing, who they are talking to, but also so their child is more confident in turning to their parents if something goes wrong.

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