The IWF has decided to start issuing take-down notices directly to foreign hosting where it finds child abuse images.
Until now the IWF relied on foreign partner hotlines and law enforcement agencies when it discovers child abuse images hosted on foreign hosting services. This has been strongly criticised as resulting in slow take-down times.
The IWF's web page describing their blocking initiative has been updated :
We consider removal at source to be the most effective way of combating child sexual abuse images online and other criminal content within our remit which has been almost eradicated from UK networks. [...] Whilst child sexual abuse
images hosted abroad remain available, the UK internet industry has voluntarily agreed to block access to them using a list provided by the IWF. We consider blocking to be a short-term disruption tactic which can help protect internet users from
stumbling across these images, whilst processes to have them removed are instigated.
The head of the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) has reiterated the organisation's focus on the most serious images of child abuse, implying a recalibration of its efforts to police borderline material.
When El Reg spoke with Peter Robbins, Chief Executive of the IWF last month, he was at pains to re-assure us that the the IWF was not into the numbers game – blocking any and everything where there was the slightest hint of impropriety. Rather, the main
focus was on the worst excesses: identifying instances of real child abuse.
ISPs that fail to curb child pornography on the web would be criminalised in a crackdown to be introduced in the Queen's Speech this autumn.
The Home Office is drawing up plans for what, in effect, would be the first form of state intervention in Britain in relation to the internet.
British ISPs would face heavy fines for failing to block sites containing images of child sexual abuse, according to the contents of a leaked Home Office document seen by The Independent on Sunday.
Figures show that 98.5% of ISPs already take down or block illegal sites through the Internet Watch Foundation, a self-regulation body created in 1996 that monitors content and reports obscene images to police.
Opponents of the move say the IWF is working well and claim a new crackdown would force ISPs to deal with Scotland Yard, which has less experience of blocking websites, and in the process allow more illegal images to slip through the net.
The leaked Home Office letter says a clause in the Police, Crime and Private Security Bill in the Queen's Speech would compel domestic ISPs to implement the blocking of illegal images of child sexual abuse.
There will be a four-week consultation with ISPs on the proposals, but insiders said the firms had not been informed about the proposed crackdown. A Whitehall source said: "This is a gesture which will undermine the real work that is going on to
tackle child porn abuse. The Internet Watch Foundation is already working to take down sites and people are getting arrested.
Be careful what you wish for, that's the old proverb, and as new and different censorship regimes evolve around the world I begin to wonder whether we Brits haven't been a little harsh on the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) – our own homegrown attempt to
expunge child porn from the internet.
Research was commissioned by the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) in September 2008 to provide the following insights and information:
An up-to-date picture of the public's awareness of the IWF and its work
Public perceptions of issues associated with the IWF and its role
To enable an evaluation of IWF awareness campaigns
To explore public opinion on wider issues outside the IWF's specific role including online content, behaviours, and criminal activity as well as key concerns such as freedom of information
This report is based on 1,000 interviews with adult men and women in the UK as a representative and significant sample of UK adult internet users.
2. Just over one quarter of respondents (27%) describe the principle of “freedom of information” on the internet as vitally important and two thirds (65%) say it is at least very important. Most of the remainder think it is quite important and
only 7% say it is not important.
4. 17% of all respondents say they use the internet for adult content websites; more men (27%) than women (8%).
7. 55%, rising to 67% of male respondents, consider pornography on the internet to be legal. Only 13% of all respondents and 19% of male respondents consider very extreme/violent pornography to be legal.
17. 28% of respondents, rising to 31% of men and 35% of those aged over 65, are aware of the recent changes in the law making it illegal to possess very extreme pornography, such as that featuring animals or extreme violence.
19. Women (30%) are twice as likely as men (15%) to want adult websites removed from the internet as are over 65 year olds (33%) compared with 18-24 year olds (16%). 23% overall think adult sites should be removed from the internet.
20. Few respondents have definitely heard of the IWF or know them well (4%). 19% recall hearing the name.
The IWF list contains only publicly available web based content and only URLs related to indecent images of children. We have no role regarding peer-to-peer traffic and have never taken any action regarding Pirate Bay as it is outside our remit.
The UK code of practice for the self-regulation of new forms of content on mobiles is available on our website for informational purposes, however, it is not overseen by the IWF nor do we have any role in its implementation.
Unfortunately we do not know why our organisation has been referenced in relation to any action regarding Pirate Bay.
The Internet Watch Foundation has announced the appointment of a new independent Chair of its Board. Eve Salomon brings vast experience to the role including national and European level expertise in regulatory structures, law, media, and communications
and is a committed and eminent advocate of the UK’s 'better regulation' agenda. Eve takes up her role on 1st April 2009.
Eve is an independent international consultant in media regulation and law. She is a legal expert for the Human Rights Division of the Council of Europe and the author of the UNESCO/Commonwealth Broadcasting Association Guidelines for Broadcasting
Regulation. Her previous jobs include Deputy Secretary of the Independent Television Commission, Director of Legal Services at the Radio Authority and Interim Secretary of Ofcom. She is a Commissioner of the Press Complaints Commission and also a
Gambling Commissioner. Eve was also a member of the independent Better Regulation Commission, advising government on how to improve the quality of regulation and reduce regulatory burdens.
Eve Salomon, Chair of IWF Board said: This is an exciting and challenging time to be joining the IWF as concern about criminal use of the internet is high on the public agenda. The UK internet industry, through the IWF, has an excellent track record
in standing up to the challenges and working in the public interest. I look forward to drawing on our considerable expertise to ensure the right balances are drawn between freedom of expression and protection from illegal content.
IWF is managed by a single Board of 10 members, comprising six independent members, three industry members, and an independent Chair. The role of the Board is to monitor and review IWF’s remit, strategy, policy and budget in order to enable the IWF to
achieve its objectives.
Should the censors of the Internet Watch Foundation be considered a charity?
Thanks to Shaun
Shaun wrote to the Charity Commission asking why the censors of the Internet Watch Foundation could be considered a charity
Thank you for your reply.
I am afraid I am not fully satisfied with it. I could find nothing in the guidance which would indicate to me, as to how the Internet Watch Foundation could be considered a genuine charity.
I would therefore like you simply to explain to me, how the Internet Watch Foundation justifies its charitable status in your opinion.
If the Internet Watch Foundation really is a charity and does indeed perform a genuine charitable function then this will not be a difficult task for you.
I do not dispute that it may well serve a useful purpose in regulating the worst of the internet, only that this is not really a charitable purpose, and that the Internet Watch Foundation exists mainly to serve the interests of the subscribing members
(mostly consisting of Internet Service Providers), rather than the general public at large, and it was formed to help protect those members against excessive government regulation, as was the BBFC in the early days of cinema. Please note that the BBFC
video and film censors NOT a charity and neither should the Internet Watch Foundation be considered one in my opinion
If you have a different opinion, as to why the Internet Watch Foundation really is a genuine charity, I should be most grateful to you for explaining to me why that is.
Comment: IWF Reply
26th February 2009
Thank you for your email below.
This has been passed to me as your question refers to the charitable status of the Foundation and our decision to register it as a charity and therefore whether it carries out charitable activities.
You will appreciate that all registrations are based on information supplied at the time of registration, so to answer your question I have looked back at the case file from that time..
The Foundation applied to us as an established company, which already worked in partnership with the Police, Government and the mobile and internet industry. At the time of the application it was funded by the internet industry and the European
Having been informed of the activities of the Foundation, the Commission considered whether the protection of children from harmful material on the internet was charitable. Our Commissioners had taken a view that it is charitable in a decision in 2002,
when considering an organisation known as the Internet Content Rating Association (the details of that decision are available on our web-site). The Commissioners were satisfied that the care and protection of the health and welfare of children and young
persons by a facility which enabled controlled access to prevent harm was capable of being a charitable purpose and from information supplied it was clear that the Foundation does undertake activities which are aimed at the care and protection of
children and young persons.
Regarding the prevention of crime, we determined that the Foundation's activities could lead to the prevention of crime because its activities include analysing emerging trends from countries and the geographical locations of where websites containing
illegal content are located and intelligence is passed to the Police.
Comment: Mission Creep
26th February 2009
Shaun comments further:
Thank you for your reply for which I am most grateful. I have little doubt that the IWF was, at least to some degree, (not wholly however) a charitable organisation at the time of their registration. However I was concerned about
some apparent "mission creep" on their part since then, in that they seemed to be extending their activities beyond those they were involved in at the time they registered as a charity. However after some complaints from the public they seemed
to have recently reviewed their position, and returned to their original remit, to some degree at least.
Some of their current work however, still does involve reporting questionable UK hosted material NOT involving children, to the police. Is that charitable I still wonder ?
Should their activities extend even further to a general censor of adults, concerning contentious online material NOT involving children and/or material NOT intended for the eyes of children, then I will contact you again because I do not consider that
to be any kind of charitable role. It would simply be a government backed unaccountable, unelected body, imposing government censorship policy on freeborn adult members of the general public who might not want it. If you somehow disagree, with these
points and questions then I really must ask you: Would you really consider the internet censors in China, charitable in any way ? I know I wouldn't!
I therefore respectfully suggest, and ask, that any future censorship activities by the IWF might be fully taken into consideration when you are asked to review their status at future time, in case they have again extended their role well beyond what
really is purely charitable, or at least arguably so.
Finally I still have some concern that the IWF exists primarily to help protect its ISP membership from government intervention in the form of new proscriptive or punative laws, and I firmly maintain that this particular aspect of its work is not really
charitable. There is also a perception by many internet users that their work is clandestine, and not accountable to anyone, especially given that ISPs are encouraged to pretend the censorship is not happening by lying that the requested page isn't
there, rather than being honest with internet users, by putting up a suitable onscreen page. Even in China and Saudi Arabia, their censors are more honest that that!
The Children's charity NSPCC has expressed serious concerns that many UK households still have access to images showing child sex abuse via
The government had asked all internet service providers (ISPs) to block illegal websites by the end of 2007.
But firms providing 5% of broadband connections have not ceded to this request.
One of them, Zen Internet, said in a statement: We have not yet implemented the IWF's recommended system because we have concerns over its effectiveness.
It is understood other ISPs have cited the cost of blocking the illegal material as a reason not to participate in the scheme.
NSPCC's Zoe Hilton said: Allowing this loophole helps feed the appalling trade in images featuring real children being seriously sexually assaulted.
The blocked websites come from a list supplied by the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), but some smaller providers refuse to use the list. The IWF list recently came to the public's attention due to the blocking of a very mild and historic Scorpions Album
Home Office Minister Alan Campbell said: In 2006 the government stated that they wished to see 100% of consumer broadband connections covered by blocking, which includes images of child abuse, by the end of 2007. Currently in the UK, 95% of consumer
broadband connections are covered by blocking. The government is currently looking at ways to progress the final 5%.
Peter Robbins, chief executive of the IWF, answered questions from ZDNet UK about the fallout from the decision to block the Scorpions album cover
What issues are there with people's perceptions of what the IWF does? Surely it's generally agreed that blocking child sexual abuse images is a good thing?
Yes, but the suspicion is about what else is on the [block] list. In the light of the Wikipedia incident, there is a deep suspicion of what's on the list. How do people know it's indecent images of children being blocked and not, say, politically
sensitive information? The last thing we want is to have our list compromised by having sites on the list outside of our remit.
Why did you decide to block the Wikipedia image of the Scorpions album cover?
It's about judgements you make about images. On Wikipedia there was an image of a prepubescent girl with no clothes on posing provocatively, and that fails UK guidelines. However, the image has been around for a long time.
If the image was provocative, why did you unblock it?
We didn't want to be arguing about the legality of blocking it if people were proliferating the image, copy and pasting it. We wanted to get back to our core business of notice and takedown, to get to websites around the world.
Will you change how you assess images in the light of the Wikipedia incident?
We are going to change our systems to deal with the context and the history of the image, and whether the content is available on an innocent site. We learnt lessons from this.
Last summer, the British cell phone carrier Vodafone announced it would be offering a new filtering service for its Czech customers. Child pornography and promotion of racism [are] such socially dangerous content that we have access to it automatically blocked for all of our customers,
said Philip Premysl, senior manager of corporate social responsibility of Vodafone in the press release.
But six months later, that filter also blocked pages on tech blogs, a chat server and a transportation site all based in the Czech Republic. Tech bloggers Radim Hasalik and David Biksadsky started a Facebook group called Stop Internet Censorship (in the
Czech language) to protest the poor filtering by the cell carrier.
Vodafone spokesman Miroslav Cepicky told me the carrier offers two tiers of filtering on its mobile Net services: one is the default filtering of child porn sites; the other allows parents to put on a "child profile" that blocks sites related
to erotica, violence, drugs and alcohol, gambling, and weapons.
Few would argue that illegal child pornography sites shouldn't be blocked, but how does Vodafone decide on the blacklist? That list comes from the Internet Watch Foundation, an independent group funded by the European Union and the online industry,
including telecommunication companies, internet service providers (ISPs) and mobile providers. About 95% of of UK Internet traffic is filtered via IWF blacklists, and many ISPs depend on IWF to decide which sites should be filtered rather than making the
Following complaints that its child-porn blacklist has led multiple British ISPs to censor innocuous content on the
Internet Archive's Wayback Machine
, the internet censor, the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), has confirmed the blacklist contains images housed by the 85-billion-page web history database.
But this fails to explain why Demon Internet and other ISPs are preventing some users from accessing the entire archive.
The IWF can confirm it has taken action in relation to content on www.archive.org involving indecent images of children which contravenes UK law (Protection of Children Act 1978). The URL(s) in question were added to our URL list according to IWF
procedures, an IWF spokeswoman told The Reg.
According to IWF guidelines, blacklisted URLs are precise web pages chosen so that the risk of over blocking or collateral damage is minimised. But multiple Demon Internet customers say they're unable to view any sites stored by the Wayback
Machine. And in response to our original story on this blacklist snafu, customers of additional ISPs - including Be Unlimited and Virgin - say they're experiencing much the same thing. That said, other customers say they're not experiencing problems. And
still others say that access is blocked only intermittently.
The telco that owns Demon Internet, Thus, has not responded to requests for comment. Nor have Be Unlimited and Virgin Media.
British ISP Demon Internet is no longer blocking access to the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine, after working in tandem with the IA to correct a technical issue with its child-pornography filter.
The IWF confirmed that its blacklist contains at least one image hosted by the Wayback Machine. But although IWF filters are typically designed to block individual pages, Demon's filter seemed to be blocking the entire archive.
A senior engineer with the company has provided an explanation on a newsgroup where users have discussed the blocking. According to this post, Demon customers were unable to access large parts of the Wayback Machine because of the way Demon's IWF filter
interacted with the web page cache used by the IA to speed access.
Because at least one Internet Archive page is blacklisted by the IWF, Demon uses a proxy server each time a user requests info from the IA's servers. The caching mechanism wasn't working for pages accessed via this proxy. It also screwed up the cached
page for other users accessing via the same proxy. Which explains why some Be Unlimited and Virgin Media customers were having problems with the Wayback Machine.