Online sex offender crackdown faces criticism

A government plan to require convicted sex offenders to register their email addresses and online nicknames has been criticised for being difficult to enforce.

Home Secretary John Reid told reporters: "If they give us false details of their name and address they can be punished by up to five years in prison... What I want to explore is to see whether we can have the same requirement for email addresses and web identities."

Graham Titterington, Principal Analyst at consultancy Ovum, said the plan is likely aimed more at drawing attention to the issue than actually fighting it. "It won't have a big impact," he said. "He's reacting to news stories."

Earlier this week, three men were jailed for a total of 27 years for conspiring to kidnap and rape girls found in online chat rooms. Police said it was the first UK case when online chat was used as evidence.

With Reid's new plan, if a registered paedophile is caught concealing an email address, police could have an extra charge to work with, Titterington said. But with the ease of setting up an email account, enforcement could be complicated given the ease of attaining multiple email addresses.

"It could be fairly rigorously enforced, with good cooperation with internet service providers and if you monitored their internet access so you could see which sites they're going to," said Titterington. "Both those sound fairly draconian and very heavy in administrative costs."

He believes government and law enforcement could be more effective working with service providers to regulate chat rooms and messaging services. "But that doesn't get headlines, does it?"

Stephen Carrick-Davis, a spokesman for internet safety charity Childnet, carefully welcomed the measure. "It's a question of how it's going to be enforced," he said. "It's not a silver bullet, just one part of the armoury."

"It's important that every avenue is explored," he said, but the key to internet safety, is education. "The government needs to continue ensuring safety in curriculum," he said. "Good law enforcement technology is important, but the basic problem is education."