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Andy Cowell, CensorNet: Is your business protected from prosecution under the new Pornography laws?

April 2009 by Andy Cowell, CensorNet

You may not be aware that on 26 January 2009 Legislation in the UK came into force which governs the viewing and possession of ’Extreme’ Pornographic images. The law is part of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008, Part 5 Sections 64-67 and carries a maximum sentence of 3 years.

This legislation has serious consequences for all private and public business operations.

This legislation, which makes possession of inappropriate images an imprisonable offence, clearly demonstrates that deploying the most effective tools is now an essential element of a successful IT security policy both for the perimeter and within the network.

The law specifically now lists four separate criteria, which could lead companies and individuals to be prosecuted.
• The picture must be pornographic, or produced for sexual purposes.
• It must be realistic.
• It must contain certain specific imagery, eg, activity depicting serious harm, or life-threatening activity.
• Finally, it must be grossly offensive, as determined either by a jury or magistrate.

What can you do then to give your business, yourself and your employees the best protection?

You must ensure you choose an application that has been specifically developed to provide management of this issue and avoid expensive legal costs and embarrassing, adverse PR.

A key element is to deploy a tool with functionality that looks at images coming into your business and individually blocks those that are inappropriate, and not just block websites you do not want your users to see.

Look for accreditations such as the CheckMark Premium accreditation with a 100% pass rate. This means you can be sure that nothing deemed unacceptable as part of your internal policies can be viewed, and you have peace of mind that you will not be prosecuted as your employees are protected.

Tips on how to comply:

Do not permit the downloading of what may be now viewed as unlawful images (even though sites may be legal) For example, it is estimated that 80% of images now deemed unlawful came from legal sites emanating from the US. Employers need to put processes and policies in place to enforce this.

Do not allow subscription to any of these websites. The Police have powers under RIPA to force ISP’s to give out names. Employers should make sure that the tools they have block unacceptable sites. Check and if necessary wipe your hard disks, what was once legal is now illegal– as an employee this becomes your responsibility. As an employer it is your responsibility to make sure you have implemented the best tools (such as: an application with a minimum of 60 Million URLs, the ability to categorise these, zero-hour protection and image recognition functionality).

If your employee has downloaded (at work on your pc) an illegal image and is prosecuted, you are also liable to litigation as you may be charged with not properly protecting your employees. Protect yourself from litigation - Implement an Acceptable User Policy (AUP) so that your employees know what they can and cannot do. Categorise your users and apply policy based rules. Choose a product that has industry compliancy such as CIPA, BECTA, HIPPA and the Internet Watch Foundation.

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