The possession of actual photographs or images that appear to be photographs of sexual child abuse is punishable by up to 10 years in jail. The Government wants to create a new offence for generated images which would be punishable by three years in jail and an unlimited fine.
"The ease with which images can be circulated or altered brings fresh challenges in combating the availability of child sex abuse images. It’s critical that the law stays one-step ahead and nowhere is this more important than protecting children from harm,” said Home Secretary John Reid, introducing a consultation on the new law. "The Government is determined to do all we can to protect children from abuse."
The new law will relate to cartoon, computer-generated pictures, animations, drawings or actual photos altered so that they do not appear enough like photos to fall under existing law's reference to pseudo photographs.
The Home Office says that it has been told by police and children's organisations that such images are increasingly used, and that they are often discovered in raids alongside photographs.
Police are not only not permitted to prosecute people for possessing these images, they are not allowed to confiscate them or remove them from circulation.
The Home Office said that the three year jail term was designed to penalise the proposed offence in proportion to the existing one. "This will place the offence in the sentencing framework below offences for possessing actual photographs of child sexual abuse," said a Home Office statement.
The consultation asks interested parties for comments on three options. The first is to amend the Child Protection Act, the second is to create a new law and the third is to take no action.
The exercise is a joint consultation involving England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
"I am aware of concerns about the growing market for fantasy imagines, cartoons and drawings such as those which could be produced on a computer, depicting child sexual abuse," said Cathy Jamieson, minister for justice in the Scottish Executive. "[These] images would not currently be covered by law and could now be easily circulated via the internet or mobile phones. It is only right that as technology progresses that we ensure the law also moves forward to maximise protection for our young people."