A Crackdown On Encrypted Child Pornography


Events in Sussex last year in which Jane Longhurst tragically and horrifically threw the spotlight on another form of extreme material on the internet — violent pornography in which children and women are depicted as the victims of rape, torture and asphyxiation.

There has been remarkable progress in a comparatively short period, as politicians and the public have responded positively to the call for a crackdown on both violent pornography and encrypted child pornography.

It would seem in the past few months or so, the police, spurned on by press and public, have been forced to take note of the Internet and its potential to harm vulnerable individuals and groups. Nobody likes being told what to do, especially when you are used to saying what you want, to whom you want. Until recently, the Web has been an open forum for freedom of expression. However, as its audience grows, so does the possibility of offending someone’s sensibilities. Therefore, whether some people like it or not, welcoming restrictions are being developed and implemented.

Related article from The Observer, 27 Aug 2006:

Suspected paedophiles who refuse to show police encrypted images on their computers could receive much longer prison sentences under laws being considered by the government. The proposal has won support from a coalition of children’s charities, which are worried that an increasing number of paedophiles are using sophisticated software to hide child pornography from investigators. Currently, anyone refusing to reveal an encrypted image to police faces a maximum of two years in prison. But making and disseminating child pornography carries a maximum 10-year sentence, so some suspects refuse to decrypt images in the knowledge they will receive a lighter sentence. In May, Home Office minister Liam Byrne signalled the government’s concern over the issue, acknowledging that ‘the use of encryption is proliferating’.

A government consultation about giving judges powers to increase sentences for suspected paedophiles who refuse to unlock encrypted files closes this week. It highlights a number of cases in which suspects refused to co-operate. One, the consultation document notes, had ’27 encrypted disks, none of which could be opened’. In another case, images of child rape were recovered along with encrypted files ‘giving rise to concern they may contain worse material’.

The Conservatives have called for the maximum sentence to be increased to seven years. The charities, which includes NCH, Barnardo’s and the NSPCC, have written to the Home Office saying there is an urgent need for the law to be changed.

The consultation discusses the higher sentences as part of amendments to the controversial Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act. The legislation was introduced in 2000 but, after a public backlash, the government dropped the part of the act that made it an offence to refuse to hand over encryption keys.


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