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The great Government paedo hunt

Today's Government proposals to protect web-surfing kids are a peculiar brand of headline-seeking, paranoid ignorance that affects all governments from time to time.

For those still blissfully unaware of the Government's latest anti-pervert panacea, it goes a little something like this:

Sex offenders will be required to register their email addresses with the plod. The addresses will, in turn, be passed on to social-networking sites who can then publish them, block access to them and generally make hideouspervert@inadequate.com feel unwelcome. (Apologies if that is your actual email address.) Facebook could even create a 'Sex offenders' group.

See also:

Sex offenders to be banned from Facebook

But, just as my Dad has yet to appreciate that there is more to the web than Leedsunited.com, it seems that Jacqui Smith and her Home Office goons appear to have failed to appreciate one killer fact: the existence of multiple email addresses.

Well that and, you know, the fact that the (thankfully rare) kind of über paedo that grabs the headlines is unlikely to be entirely forthcoming with the police.

Oh, and in order to be on the sex offenders register, sex offenders have to, well, offend, and be convicted of being offensive. (Perhaps Jacqui Smith should suggest a perves' amnesty, where people can freely sign up for the register no questions asked? If you build it, they will come.)

Here's what Jacqui says about her big idea: "We need to patrol the internet to keep predators away from children in the same way as we patrol the real world."

Here's what I say: "This is dangerous, misleading nonsense. The worst kind of GMTV government. You can't patrol the internet any more than you can patrol every playground on the entire planet. And you know this, you odd woman."

You can't make children 100 percent safe in the physical world unless you lock them inside and plonk them on the couch, 24/7 (as many parents do). Better yet, tape pillows all over their extremities and make them eat only (pre-chewed) marshmallows. And make sure to block up their eyes and ears in case they see anything upsetting...

When I was a kid we were threatened with the belt if we didn't say no to strangers (even if the strangers were merely asking directions). We were force fed a liberal dose of 'Grange Hill', and then told to play out and not come home until the street lights came on, or 'Wogan' started. We turned out okay (although we did develop a morbid fear of BBC television.)

And here's the thing: the vast majority of violence against children - sexual or otherwise - is perpetrated by people who know the victims well. The police rarely have to look far from the victim to find the criminal.

The internet is no different to what I like to call First Life. The same rules apply. You can't be around to protect children 24 hours a day, and they ought to be able to find their own way. But you can arm responsible kids with the skills to spot and repel inappropriate contact, and trust them to come to you if something isn't quite right.

None of which is likely to happen as long as desperate politicians chase cheap votes by pandering to the fears of technical ignorants.

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