UK Politics

MP urges fines for credit card firms over child porn

Credit card firms should be fined if their products are used to buy images showing child sex abuse online, an MP has said.

Raising the issue in Parliament, Labour's Geraint Davies said he wanted an end to anonymity for pre-paid credit cards used to pay to download images.

Firms like Visa and MasterCard had "no appetite" to deal with the matter themselves, he suggested.

The firms said they did not allow any of their cards to be used in that way.

They stressed that they were "vigilant" in seeking to identify offenders and eliminate the problem.

Mr Davies put the case for new controls on the use of pre-paid cards in a Ten minute rule Motion - a type of motion designed to highlight an issue which rarely has a realistic chance of becoming law.

New threat

Pre-paid cards could be bought for £100 at shops and service stations, he told fellow MPs.

The buyers remained anonymous, he said, and could simply use the card to access the "growing" number of sites showing indecent images of children.

He said it was "the new route for users is to hide their identity".

"All the buyer has to do is put in a name and address - say Donald Duck and Buckingham Palace - and away he goes."

Citing firms such as Visa and Mastercard, he said pre-paid cards were also being used by children to buy knives and alcohol.

'Money involved'

While action had been taken to stop credit and debit cards being used in this way, he said "this horse had now bolted" as offenders were now using pre-paid cards.

People buying a pre-paid card should have to provide proof of identity such as passport or driving licence details, he argued.

In addition, he said credit card companies should be liable for penalties when their cards were used to download abusive images.

"The simple fact is that we can't rely, as some people think we can, on the credit card industry itself to police itself," he said.

"The credit card companies are simply not taking pre-emptive action. There is a lot of money involved and no appetite for voluntary industry action."

Action by US authorities to clamp down on people using credit cards to access gambling sites showed that "targeting payment systems can change behaviour".

He added: "Now is time to take action rather than sit back let the abuse go on."

'Vigilance'

Visa Europe said its position on the issue of child abuse was "unequivocal".

"Visa Europe deplores the commercial exploitation of child abuse images and we do not allow Visa products of any type - debit, credit or pre-paid - to be used to purchase child pornography," the company said in a statement.

Since 2002, it added, it had used technology to scan the web to identify websites professing to sell images of child abuse which displayed the Visa logo.

"Wherever we find a site offering such material for sale via Visa payment cards, we alert our banks and the law enforcement agencies.

"Our rules stipulate clearly that our member banks must terminate the acquiring contracts with these merchants. We also work with law enforcement to assist in the arrest of the criminals."

The company said it remained "vigilant" in dealing with the "complex and evolving" threat of online exploitation of children.

MasterCard Worldwide said it had "always worked aggressively to identify and eliminate any illegal activity involving the use of its global payment network".

It said it was talking to Mr Davies to see what more could be done to address the issue.

The firm said its co-operation with the police and its membership of the European Financial Coalition against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children Online (EFC) were crucial in seeking to eliminate child abuse images on the internet.

"Only through this partnership will we be able to stop the flow of funds that support the use of child abuse images on the internet and hopefully move quickly toward eliminating it altogether," it said.