British government plans to block paedophiles from using social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace have been shelved because of fears that such a move would breach human rights laws.
The Home Office announced in April that it was taking steps to restrict registered sex offenders from accessing the internet sites used by millions of children every day.
The new law would have applied to more than 30,000 sex offenders on the register. Failure to comply would have carried up to five years’ imprisonment.
But it has now emerged that the Home Office has been forced to climb down amid concerns that the plan is incompatible with the right to privacy.
There are fears that any move by the police to share the personal details and email addresses of registered sex offenders with the social networking sites would be open to legal challenges.
The decision to shelve the new law followed a ruling by the Court of Appeal earlier this year. “We’re seeking leave to appeal this decision to the Supreme Court,” a Home Office spokesman said.
Concerns about paedophiles using networking sites to approach children are growing. In its annual report, the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre noted there had been a marked increase in the use of webcams linked to instant messaging technology to incite a child to perform or to witness a sexual act.
The CEOP report states: “Cases in the past 12 months range from instances where offenders have infiltrated social networking and other online environments to collect pictures of young children to examples of sustained grooming and blackmail with offenders seeking to meet a child offline for abduction and sexual abuse. The online and offline worlds are truly converged: the ‘virtual’ environment is simply an extension of the real, physical world and that is as true for young people as it is for offenders.”
Sex offenders are banned from accessing personal networking sites in the US, where the personal details of paedophiles are made public.