Deborah McGovern: Creating an global internet hostile to child sexual abuse material
25 May 2012
Deborah McGovern, Internet Watch Foundation Deputy Chief Executive and Director of Policy and Performance, blogs on the launch of new research into combating online child sexual abuse content and the challenges ahead.
Last night I spoke at the launch of "Online Child Sexual Abuse: Grooming, Policing and Child Protection in a Multi-Media World", a new book by Elena Martellozzo of Middlesex University. Find out more about Elena here http://www.mdx.ac.uk/aboutus/staffdirectory/Elena_Martellozzo.aspx.
The IWF has been tackling online child sexual abuse content for 16 years and an increasing number of partners have joined us along this journey. Our starting point has always been that partnership working is absolutely key to any success, and whilst Elena’s book is primarily about policing strategies, she does provide a comprehensive overview of all these different perspectives, from the legal framework to theories of offending.
It’s incredibly useful to have all this research collated into one very accessible source!
In the chapter on legal frameworks, Elena highlights what is for us, the key challenge – the fact that online child sexual abuse content requires the harmonisation of policing and child protection practices, as well as underlying laws.
This is something we recognise, support and are glad to see being raised.
We have commissioned research into this area ourselves. In 2011 we published an independent report entitled: “Online Child Sexual Abuse Content: The development of a comprehensive, transferable international internet notice and takedown system”. This report, which has the distinction of having the most accurate but least user-friendly title in recent research history, looked at the legal framework in a number of countries, and where a notice and takedown system existed, looked at its operation.
The report found that there is compelling evidence that the notice and takedown system already used by us in the UK is the most effective in removing child sexual abuse content at source.
Notice and takedown is a system which allows members of the public to report potentially criminal content. The reports are assessed, traced and a notice is issued to relevant parties and law enforcement to remove that content.
The system allows police to capture evidence for investigations aimed at prosecuting offenders and rescuing child victims as well as removing the content from the internet. The report made a number of recommendations on how these methods could be implemented internationally and you can read more here http://www.iwf.org.uk/resources/independent-report.
Even without harmonisation of global laws we have worked incredibly hard to get content outside the UK taken down quicker.
In 2008, this content would remain available for an average of one month. In 2009 after we began chasing up the removal of this content – around half of all child sexual abuse images and videos hosted outside of the UK are removed in 10 days. Almost three quarters is removed in 20 days.
We are very proud of this but clearly there’s still a lot of work to do to get that down further. In the UK, on the very rare occasions that content is hosted here, it is removed within 60 minutes of a notice being issued. This is the standard we need to achieve worldwide.
Let’s also not forget that whilst Elena is quite right that it is not the computer which is abusing the child, it is the person operating it – the computer (and the internet) can be turned from an enabler to an obstacle. We are adept at identifying and tackling new trends and we collaborate with other experts in order to access the best technology presenting a means to prevent or disrupt access to child sexual abuse material.
Over the next three years we will continue take measures to ensure that we stay ahead of technical developments and continue to adapt our processes. We will unremittingly focus on eliminating child sexual abuse images and videos from the internet.
Elena’s book has drawn together research from a number of partners from all aspects of this work, and has highlighted some challenges for us going forward. We believe that to tackle these challenges we all need to forge strong, cross border, genuine partnerships. We need to work together, we need to share our tactics, our frustrations and our successes.
Eventually, we want to be able to say that it is not just the UK which is a hostile environment for this content - but the whole of the internet.