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Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Man barred from unsupervised access with own daughter after reporting child porn find to police: important questions

Police could strike a better balance in the drive to protect children by expediting digital forensics

The BBC reports on a disturbing case.  The report goes like this...

A man who was "trying to download music" found he had instead downloaded images of child abuse.  He discusses the find with his wife and they call the police.

Police start an investigation, confiscate the laptop as part of the investigation for "up to a year" and meanwhile, social services impose a ban on any unsupervised access with any child, including his own.

As has been pointed out on Twitter, we don't know the full details of this case. However, details reported as fact by the BBC, which I have no reason to doubt, still raise two important questions.

Firstly, will pointing the finger like this be counter-productive in the fight against the availability of online child porn? Will people be dissuaded from reporting finds to the police, for fear of losing access to their children and having their computer pored over by police for a substantial period of time?

Secondly, is this the right balance between civil rights and in particular the presumption of innocence and the equally important need to protect vulnerable children from potential abuse?

When we talk about balance we tend to think of either/or, but sometimes this is a false dichotomy when other options are available but not considered.

We have two conflicting interests: the right of the father to be treated fairly under law and the right of his children to live free from potential abuse.

The onus on the police and council is to minimise risk to the child whilst respecting as far as possible the rights of the father.  Would it not therefore be more appropriate to expedite the investigation and search of the father's laptop, making the decision to charge or clear the father at the earliest possible opportunity?

This way any child protection order need only be temporary and for the shortest possible time.  Senior police sources tell me of horrendous backlogs in digital forensics - this is potentially the real scandal here.  People's lives are being disrupted for many months and children are potentially being left at risk for lack of digital expertise within police forensics units.


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