July 20, 2006 8:37 AM PDT

British banks to cancel cards used for Net child porn

U.K. banks, as well as savings and loan associations, have been given the power to find out if the credit cards they've issued are being used to access illegal material online.

Under an amendment to the Data Protection Act of 1998, approved this week after being passed in the House of Lords on Tuesday evening, British police will be able to give card issuers information on people suspected or convicted of Internet child pornography offenses. Banks would then be able to cancel credit cards and accounts used to access the illegal content as a result of a breach of their usage terms and conditions.

"No card provider wants to be associated with those who commit these crimes. With this change in the law, our members will have the information they need to remove offenders' cards."
--Sandra Quinn, director of corporate communications, Apacs Administration

Before the amendment approval, data-sharing restrictions meant that police were prohibited from notifying card issuers if their customers were using their credit cards to access illegal material online such as child porn.

The law change comes after collaboration between U.K. payments industry body Apacs Administration, the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Center, the Department for Constitutional Affairs, the Home Office and children's charities.

"No card provider wants to be associated with those who commit these crimes," Sandra Quinn, director of corporate communications at Apacs, said in a statement. "With this change in the law, our members will have the information they need to remove offenders' cards."

U.K. data protection minister Baroness Cathy Ashton said the new rules, which go into effect on July 26, are vital for disrupting and curtailing pedophile activity on the Internet.

New figures from the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) show that half of all child abuse content reported to the IWF during the first six months of this year was traced to the United States. The number of Web sites displaying images of child abuse hosted in the United Kingdom has fallen--down to 0.2 percent of such content worldwide, from 18 percent in 1997.

The IWF report has also found a trend for hosting noncommercial images of child abuse on Japanese message boards, as well as growing use of online photo album services posting images and distributing videos of child pornography online.

Through an online "hotline," IWF received 5,000 reports of child pornography Web sites during the first six months of this year, up by 49 percent during the same period last year.

Andy McCue of Silicon.com reported from London.

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