Britain Moves To Crack Down On Internet Pedophiles

By Mike Wendling | July 7, 2008 | 8:12 PM EDT

London ( - British conservatives on Friday added to calls to pass new laws against Internet activity by pedophiles.

Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith came out in favor of new legislation that would make it illegal to use the Internet to "groom" children for sexual abuse. Duncan Smith also said he supported increased sentences for pedophiles who refuse to unlock encrypted information stored on the net.

"Pedophiles rarely accept they are committing a crime and their re-offending rate is very high," Duncan Smith said in a release. "Their movements should be monitored more closely and sentences should be appropriate to a crime which destroys young lives."

"It is quite possible to draft a clause which would stop any action by an adult towards a child for harmful sexual purposes," he said. "We should also make it a criminal offense to refuse to hand over the 'key' to encrypted Internet storage. Without this code, it is almost impossible to access the material and obtain vital evidence."

Conservative calls for a crackdown were prompted by the suspected abduction of two 10-year-old girls from a small village 12 days ago. Despite one of the biggest-ever manhunts in British history, the children and their abductor had still not been found as of Friday afternoon.

Police said the girls, Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman, briefly used the Internet before setting out from the Wells family home in Cambridgeshire on Aug. 4. They haven't been seen since.

Conservative Party leaders said the case highlighted the need for urgency in passing new legislation.

"Some things can be done quite quickly and what we are trying to do is precipitate action," said party home affairs spokesman Oliver Letwin.

"I hope this won't be a matter of great dispute and we can move quickly," he said in an interview with British radio.

The proposals to toughen Internet laws were welcomed by child advocacy groups. John Carr, a top policy advisor with the National Children's Society, said a law against chat room grooming would give police an important new tool to help catch pedophiles.

"In general, legislating the Internet doesn't work too well - things move too fast and government is too clumsy," he said. "But this specific legislation is workable."

Carr explained that under current British laws on attempted crimes, police in most cases are forced to wait until an attacker has physical contact with a victim before moving in.

"This may have a severe psychological impact on the child," he said. "Beforehand, the assailant may have spent months grooming the child before the encounter. With new legislation, such activity could be stopped well before it gets to the face-to-face meetings stage."

Carr said the legislation would only apply to instances where there is proof of "prolonged, protracted exchanges with a sexual element to them" and would not apply to people without malicious intent who fib about their ages in internet chat rooms.

"The legislation can be made clear in this area," he said.

The British Home Office is currently considering new laws against child porn and pedophilia, and new laws could be introduced during the next parliamentary session this fall.

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