"Wacky" Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, will today unveil plans to jail paedophiles who supply police with false email details, or fail to declare new addresses they register.
The idea is already being labelled unworkable, but is set to form part of a suite of measures aimed at improving child safety online. The penalty for registered sex offenders who give dodgy details or lurk on social networking sites will be up to five years' jail time.
The new laws will come into force later this year, and will cover the 30,000 people on the sex offenders' register. They are already required to keep police updated with their physical address, travel plans and other details.
The plan is that sites popular with children, such as Bebo and MySpace, will have access to the list of paedophiles' email addresses and block attempts to sign up. The ready availability of anonymous email addresses from Gmail, Hotmail and dozens of other providers would seem to suggest that only the most stupid offender will be caught out by this.
Wacky Jacqui has form for demanding the moon on a stick from technology. Earlier this month she insisted that the ID card system will be impossible to hack because "none of the databases will be online". In January she blundered into the issue of online extremism, demonstrating a fairly fundamental misunderstanding of the structure of the internet. "Where there is illegal material on the net, I want it removed," she demanded.
Advance copies of the speech Smith will make today, sent to the press, said: "We have some of the strictest controls on sex offenders in the world to protect our children.
"We are working together with police, industry and charities to create a hostile environment for sex offenders on the internet, and are determined to make it as hard for predators to strike online as in the real world."
The announcements come in the wake of the Byron Review of technology's impact on children, published last week. It suggested new safety guidelines for websites and parents, which the government has adopted as policy. ®