HC Deb 20 May 1994 vol 243 cc584-5W
Mr. Maclennan

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department (1) what research his Department is currently engaged in concerning the use of public electronic bulletin board systems by criminals;

(2) which police forces currently deploy and train officers specifically in monitoring the electronic communication of information through bulletin boards and equivalent technology;

(3) what assessment he has made of the use being made by criminals of (a) the international and (b) other electronic bulletin board systems;

(4) how he proposes that the electronic telecommunication of illegal pornographic material through public electronic bulletin board systems will be monitored.

Mr. Maclean

The Home Office has not commissioned any research into the unlawful use of electronic bulletin boards, but the police have estimated that there are about 1,200 such boards in this country, the great majority of which are used entirely innocently. However, we are aware of certain cases where the police believe that bulletin boards are being used to disseminate obscene material or child pornography in breach of the Obscene Publications Act 1959 and the Protection of Children Act: 1978 respectively.

What action the police take to monitor such bulletin boards, and whether any forces train and deploy officers specifically for this task, is an operational matter for chief officer to determine. The Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill will make it clear that the electronic transmission of data constitutes publication for the purposes of the Obscene Publications Act 1959 and will make obscenity and child pornography offences serious arrestable offences within the meaning of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, thereby giving the police a range of increased powers, including powers of search and seizure as well as powers of arrest. These will apply to those who disseminate obscene material via bulletin boards as they apply to pornographers in other media. We also propose to table an amendment to the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill in another place to ensure that the police and other law enforcement officers cannot be excluded from publicly accessible bulletin board systems by notices purporting to bar their entry.

Computer transmissions to this country from abroad are not subject to our criminal law, but the Government will consider whether it is possible to make such transmissions subject to controls equivalent to those on the importation of obscene or indecent articles.