The UK's police forces desperately lack the resources to combat illegal content on the Internet, a government advisory body warned last week.
Eurim, a body made up of members of parliament, industry representatives and special interest groups, set up a working party two months ago to examine illegal content. Its report, Internet Content Regulation, concluded that increased priority for funding and training of police forces to battle on-line crime was urgently needed.
"Nationally, police forces are not sufficiently resourced to cope adequately with what is an international problem," said David Harrington, director general of the Telecommunications Managers Association (TMA) and chairman of the report working party. "It is like fighting 21st century crime with 19th century facilities."
The report also found that existing regulations were inadequate to cover the new medium. "There is a need to clarify and refine our existing laws on illegal material. The application of such laws to the Net is not particularly clear, but even when the law is clear, we must ensure that those whose job it is to uphold it, our police forces, are given the equipment and specialist training they need," said Baroness Dean, a Eurim council representative.
According to Harrington, the report accepts that "harmful" content cannot be entirely prevented from getting on the Internet at source, so it urges the development of technology to enable users to control content at the point of access.
An internationally accepted classification scheme for content is also required to inform end users about the nature of different web sites and to allow flexibility on content that is illegal in some countries but not in others, the report said. Proposals put forward by The Internet Watch Foundation may form part of that scheme.
Once the scheme and technology are in place, said Harrington, the most important task was to find a way to educate users about their existence and their use.
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