Chatroom dangers block school e-mails
August 30, 2001
Plans to give every pupil in Wales a personal e-mail address have been halted because of safety fears.
On Wednesday it emerged that the Welsh Assembly had decided to shelve the proposal which had been earmarked for implementation in July.
The move followed concern that the addresses could be made available to undesirables who could then have possibly identified children featured on school web sites.
The pledge to ensure schoolchildren were online was a key policy made by Labour and the Liberal Democrats when they formed the assembly coalition back in October 2000.
A statement issued by the assembly read: "There was concern about security and safety for pupils.
"We were concerned that if children went into internet chatrooms their e-mail addresses would be available.
"It was discussed at cabinet and the minister said rather than recommending delaying the implementation she wanted to recommend the implementation should be reconsidered. The cabinet agreed.
"They thought internet access for pupils rather than individual e-mail addresses was the priority."
It was Welsh Education Minister Jane Davidson who called on colleagues during a recent Cabinet meeting to review the idea.
Minutes of that meeting recorded: "The overriding need for pupil safety and security meant that the commitment needed to be amended.
"Cabinet agreed that the implementation of the commitments should be reconsidered, and that officials should establish the current local policies and practice on e-mail use and security in schools, and to include appropriate questions in the audit of ICT in schools."
The move has been welcomed by Internet Watch Foundation chief executive David Kerr.
"There was a problem in the way the addresses were constructed which meant it was easy to identify children of a certain age," he said.
"You could identify the school, year and age of children so that the man, or paedophile, in the street could e-mail children between five and 11.
"When we became aware of the plans, we told the government.
"We support the provision of the internet in general and encourage use of e-mail, but people should be more aware of the potential dangers and not use a format of address which paedophiles can take advantage of."
In fact, earlier this year the department for education at Westminster issued guidelines to schools on the safe use of e-mails.
Despite the set back on e-mail addresses, the assembly insists it is still on course to meet its target to connect all schools to the internet by next year.
Copyright © 2001 BBC News