Irish government aims for Internet child porn law

The Irish Department of Justice yesterday gained government approval to push ahead legislative proposals aimed at cracking down on the trafficking of child pornography on the Internet. It will aim to follow legislation in this country which makes possession of child pornorgraphy an offence in itself. But many questions remain over how laws will be implemented and who will be held responsible, according to an Irish civil liberties group.

The Irish Department of Justice yesterday gained government approval to push ahead legislative proposals aimed at cracking down on the trafficking of child pornography on the Internet.

The legislative proposals, if passed into law, will be added as provisions to the existing Children Bill of 1996 which protects Irish children from many forms of sexual abuse. The Children Bill contains provisions protecting kids from exploitation, but does not specifically address the possession of child pornography.

Under the terms of the proposed legislation, any person who possesses pornographic material exploiting children could be subject to criminal prosecution. This material could take the forms of written text, videos and/or photographs - including, but not limited to, images and written text sent over the Internet, according to a statement from the Irish Department of Justice in Dublin.

People convicted of possessing child pornography could face imprisonment of three years to life, according to the Department of Justice.

It is unclear whether Internet service providers and Web surfers who look at, rather than download, such online pornographic images will be considered to be in possession of child pornography.

While the Internet provisions of the legislation remain undefined, the fact that the Irish government has included the Internet in its aims to stamp out child pornography shows that it is beginning to see what a powerful tool it can be to child pornographers, according to Antôin O' Lachthâin, a spokesman for the Electronic Frontier Ireland, a civil liberties group focused on protecting cyber rights.

"These are important and practical steps in the on-going fight against the scourges of child pornography," said Irish Prime Minister John Bruton in a statement.

But while measures may be necessary to protect children from harm, the issue of how to monitor the material found on the Internet and who to prosecute for it remain complicated.

"The EFI supports legislation against child pornography; it is absolutely necessary," O'Lachthâin says. "However, questions remain about how laws will be implemented and who will be held responsible."

The EFI has recently stepped up its own efforts to curb child porn on the Internet by organizing a hot line which people can call to report illegal pornography found on the Internet. Site operators would be contacted and would have seven days to remove the material from the Web site or newsgroup. If the material remained after seven days, the police would then be notified, O' Lachthâin says.

A similar system run by civil rights experts, child psychologists and law enforcement officials has been in operation for some time in the Netherlands, O'Lachthâin says.

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