Internet and email users can be added to the sex offenders' register for a whole slew of new offences after the Home Office drastically increased the number of relevant offences.
An unspecified range of offences related to internet and phone use has been added. Now people committing a crime that involves improper use of public electronic communications networks can be made to be subject to the strict conditions imposed by being on the sex offenders' register.
A judge or the police can decide if someone committing one of these crimes should be made the subject of a Sexual Offence Prevention Order (SOPO), which means that they are added to the register.
"We have not listed all the offences, this is an overarching offence," said a Home Office spokeswoman. "What we are talking about is nuisance calls, obscene comments or obscene use of the internet where there is a sexual nature to it."
Some crimes involving computers could previously involve someone being given a SOPO, but this new order from the Home Office, which is to be put to Parliament, would widen the range of crimes which could qualify.
"We are talking about things that are not already an offence – harassment emails to a colleague of a sexual nature, for example," said the spokeswoman. "The best example is nuisance calls, heavy breathing, obscene sexual comments."
Home Office minister Vernon Coaker said that the expansion was a question of protecting the public. "The offences may not seem inherently sexual, but could have had a sexual motive," said Coaker. "These changes are necessary to strengthen the monitoring and management of sex offenders."
Police and the courts are instructed to issue a SOPO if they believe that an offender might commit a sex crime if not issued with a SOPO.
The Home Office has also increased the number of crimes which automatically result in someone being put on the register. Inciting or causing child pornography; controlling a child in prostitution or pornography; and arranging child prostitution or pornography now guarantee a SOPO, the Home Office said. The changes are to section three of the Sex Offenders' Act.