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Megan’s Flaw

April 20th, 2007 · Posted by Skuds in Politics · 9 Comments · Politics

Trying to discuss anything even slightly related to paedophiles is a risky business. When something like Megan’s Law, or even our diluted version of it, comes along it is hard to criticise it without being accused of encouraging criminals or being somehow anti-parent or soft on crime.

I already had my reservations about the whole concept before today. My first thought about it was that the most dangerous paedophiles could well be the ones who have not yet been caught or even been suspected of anything: the clever ones, or maybe just the lucky ones. Either they are more crafty or they just have not been caught yet but either way their confidence must be high knowing that they are unsuspected, and the confidence itself can make them bolder and more dangerous.

The point being that, by definition, no version of Megan’s Law can tell parents about these most dangerous characters and possibly by being told that there are no registered or even suspected child sex offenders in the area it could generate false security. You wouldn’t like to think of some little girl going off with a stranger, despite all the warnings of ‘stranger danger’ because “it must be OK – the Police say we are safe here.”

Another reason I don’t like the whole idea is that it reinforces the belief that most child sex crimes are committed by strangers, allowing the uncomfortable truth that most are committed by family or family friends.

But that was yesterday. Now I have another reason to worry about this whole business. If this article in today’s technology section of the Guardian is even half true it is very worrying indeed. It makes very scary reading.

Apparently some of the cases brought as part of Operation Ore have holes in them bigger than Jeremy Clarkson’s carbon footprint. As it has been presented to us in the media it was all very straightforward: American child porn sites had lists of people who had paid for access by credit card, the FBI passed the credit card details of the British cardholders to the British police and the baddies were rounded up.

In reality there was a whole network of web sites, many with no content at all, let alone child porn, all existing as a way to make transactions with stolen credit card details. The criminals behind it were using these details to get access to their own site via a central (possibly unconnected and innocent*) company. They took their percentage from that company and disappeared with the money. The central company got stung when the card companies charged back all the fraudulent transactions they found and went under.

A lot of these transactions were small enough that the cardholders didn’t notice them on their statement and didn’t realise their details were being used.

The end result is that what was described in the papers as the biggest child pornography ring ever discovered could well have been a collection of unsuspecting victims of fraud. Maybe some of them had indeed been looking at porn, even child porn, but there were a lot who ended up in prison and/or on child sex registers for no reason at all.

In one case the expert witness was asked if she had looked for evidence of fraud and admitted she had not looked for it. The defendant was convicted and is now appealing.

And how about this?

Some British victims of card fraud who later suffered from police mistakes in Operation Ore believe their troubles began after they bought bicycle parts – or even a honeymoon hotel stay – over the internet or on the phone from the US

Some recently-discovered logs show that in many cases where credit cards were used to sign up for porn sites, the sites were never even accessed.

The idea that someone who did nothing more serious than buy bicycle parts could end up having their name and address publicised as a paedophile, vulnerable to vigilante action, shows how wise we have been not to implement the full version of Megan’s Law!

There are some dangerous and predatory paedophiles out there. Our local papers both carry the story this week of a man who lived in Windsor Close, Broadfield who sounded like the archetypal example. (Neither paper mentioned that Windsor Close is opposite two schools however). He seemed to have slipped through a few nets, and you have to wonder if one reason for that is that so much police time was tied up in a wild goose chase, blinkered by the prospect of a few (or lots of) easy collars, while their priorities were being dictated by tabloid-fuelled hysteria.

What I don’t understand is why this story was tucked away in the technology section of the paper and not splashed on the front page. It wasn’t even mentioned on the front page.

Anyone else now racking their brains to remember any online transactions which were not through big, reputable traders like Amazon or

(* Well innocent of the fraud anyway. They knew thought they were brokering access to porn sites.)

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9 Comments so far ↓

  • CPE

    Glad to see some more objective coverage of the Operation Ore fiasco. Child porn prosecutions have become the modern-day equivalent to McCarthyism, the Spanish Inquisition, or the Salem witch trials.

    Once accused, it seems that there’s no defense that can save you, not even innocence.

  • Gordon Seekings

    Very interesting and a thoughtful posting Skuds. To use the words of one of my school teachers many years ago, tick VG.

    Your point about “…it reinforces the belief that most child sex crimes are committed by strangers, allowing the uncomfortable truth that most are committed by family or family friends.” is well made.

    It also seems to me that with a Megan’s law all that would happen is that the paedophile would abscond to an area where they are not known and therefore no longer under any form of observation/monitoring by anyone. It could in fact make a bad situation worse. :-((

  • Skuds

    Thank you for that, the pair of you, and I mean that very sincerely – I have been bracing myself for an onslaught from people who can only read headlines and jump to conclusions about my opinions from that.

    “there’s no defense that can save you, not even innocence.” That is a very scary statement, and exactly how the witch trials were conducted.

  • Danivon

    One thing that struck me as I read this was that recently it came out that many credit card numbers were stolen from unencrypted data storage held by the TK/TJ Maxx group, and that it appears to have been going on for years.

    So, in theory, you could end up on a dodgy website’s customer list simply by going into a shop as usual. It is a fallacy that internet transactions are the only risk.

    I’m with you on the major source of child abuse. It is far more likely to be a member of the child’s family, or a close friend than to be a total stranger.

    I have no problem with the police monitoring known dangerous paedophiles. But I really don’t think that it helps much to have wide circulation.

  • Skuds

    Hell’s bells!

    I had forgotten about the TK Maxx thing.

    If that lot had got into the wrong hands we could have had half of Crawley on List 99 or whatever it is called.

  • Danivon

    The worrying thing is that I suspect that TK Maxx is only known about because it was so big and the banks started to notice.

    I shudder to think how secure my credit card details are in the data vaults of other retailers.

  • skud's sister

    From this morning’s news on card cloning at petrol stations it seems that shopping for the relative luxuries available at TK Maxx is not the only danger. Another brownie point for the cyclists?

  • Skuds

    Unless they bought parts for their bike in the wrong place..

  • Fima Fimovich

    My name is Fima and I live in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA
    I came to US as political refugee on human rights violations in former USSR
    I am russian jew, and I got a lot of discrimination in USSR
    My parents are Holocaust survivors.
    But I got the worst thing in USA, never possible in communist country.
    I was set up with my computer, convicted as a s..x offender for computer p..rn.
    Now I do not have job and can hardly survive under police database
    supervision, named s..x offender registration. Nobody want to hire me,
    I think because of police database.
    And I have family. Who cares? Dirty polititians are playing their
    dirty games for more power.
    I would like to send you some links to publications about my criminal
    case. I was forced to confess to the
    possession of internet digital pictures of p..rn in deleted clusters
    of my computer hard drive. My browser was hijacked while I was
    browsing the web. I was redirected to illegal sites against my will.
    Some illegal pictures were found on my hard drive, recovering in
    unallocated clusters, without dates of file creation/download.

    I do not know how courts can widely press these charges on people to
    convict them, while the whole Internet is a mess.
    You can find all links to publications about my case here