Global force to 'patrol' chatrooms

Rosie Cowan
Thursday June 10, 2004

The Guardian

British "cybercops" are to join other law enforcers around the world which are patrolling internet chatrooms to try to protect children from paedophiles.

Assistant chief constable Jim Gamble, of the national crime squad, said the move was one of several measures to clamp down on adults using computers to view child pornography and "groom" children in order to abuse them. The Virtual Global Taskforce, which includes the NCS, the FBI, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Australian Federal Police, and Interpol, will nominate officers to monitor the net round the clock.

This will not entail undercover police posing as children to lure paedophiles but will involve a virtual version of "reassurance policing": there will be an icon, flashing in the corner of the screen, to let chatroom participants know an officer is monitoring the online messages. The officer will be able to intervene to warn those engaging in suspect conversations.

"We're already policing the internet covertly, now we'll be doing it overtly as well. It's about shining a light into a dark corner," Mr Gamble said.

Children's charities applauded the move but critics suggested it would be impossible to police a significant percentage of the millions using chatrooms.

However, Mr Gamble said the operation would be intelligence-led, and involve a small number of officers working with the internet service providers.

Police are also examining the possibility of a credit-card blacklist identifying those who have used credit cards to pay for child pornography on the net.

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2004