The Hague - The Dutch government said on Wednesday it plans to introduce a new law to force suspected terrorists and paedophiles to hand over computer passwords and punish those who refuse to comply.

“People suspected of having and trading in child pornography or terrorist activities will soon be compelled to work together to open encrypted files on their computers,” the Dutch justice ministry said in a statement.

Mooted by Justice Minister Ivo Opstelten, the bill will be introduced in parliament in early 2013, it added.

The proposal comes after a paedophile called Robert M was sentenced to 18 years in jail earlier this year for abusing some 67 very young children.

The enquiry against him was slowed up substantially when police battled to get access to his computer, which contained images of him abusing dozens of children that were then shown on the Internet.

Dutch privacy laws forbid release of M's full surname.

“Encryption is on the rise among suspects - especially within child pornography networks. Software is being used in which information is locked,” the justice ministry said.

Under current law, suspects cannot be asked to cooperate in an enquiry that may incriminate them or lead to their own conviction.

However, the idea to force a suspect to cooperate “was not inconsistent provided it's done under strict conditions,” the ministry added.

The justice minister said he still needed to lay out the penalty for refusal to comply with a so-called “decryption mandate”, but that he wanted it to be far heavier than the current three months imposed for refusal to comply with an official order. - Sapa-AFP