You just don’t get this interweb thingy do you?

And this week’s contender for dumb ass idea of the year is…

Plan to list paedophile web names

Sex offenders could be forced to register their e-mail addresses and chatroom names, the government says.

Home Secretary John Reid said he may make paedophiles put online identity details on the Sex Offenders Register.

Okay, you don’t have to be a genius to spot the obvious problem here – a ‘clean’ anonymous webmail address can be set up in a matter of a couple of minutes, and a new ‘chatroom name’ can be set up in a matter of seconds – so its all very well making that kind of thing subject to stiff penalties if sex offenders change their online IDs but you’ve still got to connect to their ‘clean’ ID in the first play…

.but then it gets worse… much worse.

Mechanisms would be set up to “flag up” approaches by them to sites popular among youngsters, he told the BBC.

WTF?

Email addresses are, at least, nominally unique in the sense that unless a webmail service recycles disused accounts after they’re closed, each individual address can be created only once – if drdemento@freeanonymouswebmail already exists then someone cannot register that exact name again.

BUT…

User names for chat-rooms, public forums and bulletin boards are anything but unique and can often be made up and changed on the spot. Some online system do rule out the creation to duplicate user names, and some don’t.

Further to that some systems require registration details to be validated by an exchange of e-mails – the system sends an email to the address supplied by the user, who must then click on a response link to confirm their registration and validate their email address as being a real one…

…and some systems don’t – in fact there are even anonymity services that provide one shot disposable e-mail addresses for site registrations, addresses that exist only for long enough to establish a user name and password, before disappearing forever into the electronic ‘aether’, systems that were created to bypass demands for personal information from website, which are used people who simply don’t like feedi9ng the gaping maw of online marketers.

I’ve used these systems myself, on occasions, in order to download trial/demo software for evaluation in order to avoid the ensuing stream of e-mails (and sometimes phone calls) from eager sales reps trying to sell me a product that I only really wanted to look at out of sheer curiosity or which does something for which I only have a one-off use – I’ve lost count of the times I’ve downloaded a fully functioning but time limited piece of trial software because it does something I need at that specific time, only to never use it again (and usually get rid of it straight away) because whatever I needed to do is just not something that will crop up again.
And let’s be clear here – what is being proposed here when Reid talks about ‘mechanisms’ that ‘flag up approaches’ to sites ‘popular with children’ is the routine monitoring and checking of user names, by these sites, against a ‘blacklist’ of usernames listed on the sex offenders’ register together with the automated reporting of any users of blacklisted names to the police.

The latest proposal means their online identities would be treated in exactly the same way as their real name, a Home Office spokesman said.

“The home secretary also wants to look at whether it is technologically feasible to set up a system where if someone enters a chatroom with an identity that was already listed on the register, it would ‘ping’ an alert on the relevant people’s computers, enabling them to take appropriate action,” he added.

Failure to divulge all the information required could lead to a jail term of up to five years.

Which would, perhaps, be fine if online user names were, indeed, unique – which they’re not.

The drawbacks to this proposed system lie not just in the ease with which paedophiles might circumvent the system, but also in the potential for the system to throw up ‘false positives’, flagging up and reporting entirely innocent internet users for having the misfortune to have decided to adopt a user name that has previously been used and registered by a known sex offender. It could even by their usual user name, one they’ve used elsewhere on the net for years, as there is nothing whatsoever to stop this being ‘duplicated’ by a sex offender as long as they don’t visit the same websites.
It’s also worth noting that throughout the entire article, the BBC report refers to ‘sex offenders’ in a generic manner, when the proposals, themselves, are specific to tacking concerns about paedophiles.

Many, if not most, registered sex offenders are not paedophiles and present no danger whatsoever to children – in fact its perfect possible for a registered sex offender, with no history of offences against children, to be visiting a chatroom or forum aimed at children for perfectly legitimate reasons – they could easily be the parent of a child who uses the forum and, like many dilligent parents, be logging on to the chatroom/forum simply to keep an eye on what their child is up to.

The entire proposal is a complete shambles and clearly advanced put forward by people who haven’t got the first fucking clue how the internet really works.

3 thoughts on “You just don’t get this interweb thingy do you?

  1. Of course, this is what the “other names by which he is or has been known” bit of the NIR could be used for (and I bet this idea is already being bandied about the HO).

    When Joe Bloggs turns up to be interrogated he’ll now be asked stupid stuff like “What’s your XBox Live GamerTag?” and “What handles have you used on EFNet?”.

    After all, these are names he’s known by, and we can’t have someone in the UK not register those “identities”….

  2. It’s called a blog, Alicia.

    I write about anything that takes my fancy. You read it and decide whether you find it interesting – in which case you come back and read some more – or you don’t – in which case you go look for what you’re after somewhere else.

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