Friday, April 04, 2008

When bureaucrats and politicians are out of touch

you get the most inane ideas proposed, agreed and implemented.
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Surely the latest one in the UK - to require registered sex offenders to reveal their email addresses and for these to be forwarded to social networking websites like Bebo, Myspace and Facebook has been put through by people with only a banal understanding of the internet.
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According to the Daily Telegraph:

"Under new guidance to improve internet safety, (police) officers will pass on the details to social networking sites in the hope that they will remove the profiles of anyone caught preying on children. Offenders who refuse to hand over their details, or supply false email addresses, will face a five-year prison sentence"

Now think about that, why would you refuse to hand over the details? How would they know they are false? What would happen? Presumably perv@uknet.com gets a nice email from PC Plod saying "Hello Mr Perv just confirming it's your email address" and he says "Yes officer thank you", before he logs on to Myspace using perv2@hotmail.com or whatever.

I have lost count of the number of email addresses I have had. I have had hotmail, yahoo, netscape, usa.net, netaddress and several other email addresses almost all of which have expired - after all they are free and easy to get. It's not as if it's your home address or phone number, though I don't doubt that some of the bureaucrats and politicians involved think it is!

The scaremongering and nonsense surrounding this issue is palpable. The same report says "Officials estimate that as many as one child in 12 who makes contact with someone online goes on to meet them." Well yes, perhaps. How many of these people are adults they meet? How many do they meet with parents or in groups or in public places? In other words, what are the actual crime statistics attached to this?
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There are really only a few sensible approaches to this. Firstly, parents have to control net access in sensible ways. Most importantly by listening to (properly) their children, talking to them and knowing how they are. Inculcate dignity, pride and confidence to them so they look after themselves. Place the computer in a public room. Have some strict rules about meeting people online that includes insisting on meeting them with a parent, responsible adult or a couple of friends. There is only so much you can do of course. If you can't control your 15 year old drinking on a Saturday night then you'll hardly stop them meeting strangers over the internet.
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Secondly, sentencing of sex offenders (and violent offenders) has to be proportionate to risk. Those who are clearly dangerous should have long custodial sentences. If there are truly dangerous people out there, then why are they free?
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Finally, there needs to be a cultural change that stop making the care of children a matter for the state. If children are reaching out outline for company isn't this a particularly sad set of affairs? When I was a child, the neighbours in my street knew who I was and where I belonged, and I had no reason to fear any of them -women or men. It felt safe and almost certainly was. Nowadays adults are more fearful of any friendly contact with someone elses' kids for fear of being branded as perverts or predators - when we know this is highly unlikely. It's time to be realistic - despite the tabloid media - there aren't perverts under every corner. In fact the situations where kids are most at risk are either large extended families where parental supervision is lax, or single mothers who have questionable male partners (and daughters desperately seeking male attention). That is the sad tragedy about it all - the real issue being why are people's kids meeting strangers they meet on the internet in the first place? and if they are, how many of these cases are really a problem? The truth is nobody knows the answer to the latter question.
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