In 1996 the Metropolitan Police notified the Internet Service Providers Association (ISPA) that some newsgroup content being carried by UK internet service providers (ISPs) were indecent images of children. The police believed this may have constituted a publication offence under the Protection of Children Act 1978 (England and Wales) by the ISPs. Efforts were then undertaken to find a way to combat the hosting of such content in the UK whilst protecting the internet industry from being held criminally liable for providing access to the content.
Following discussions between the former Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), the Home Office, the Metropolitan Police, some ISPs and the Safety Net Foundation (formed by the Dawe Charitable Trust) an R3 Safety Net Agreement regarding rating, reporting and responsibility was created by ISPA, the London Internet Exchange (LINX) and the Safety Net Foundation. A key outcome of the Agreement was the formation of the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF).
The IWF was established to fulfill an independent role in receiving, assessing and tracing public complaints about child sexual abuse content on the internet and to support the development of website rating systems. Since its formation the IWF has been actively engaged in operating this Hotline service for the public to report potentially criminal content and providing a ‘notice and takedown’ service to advise ISPs in partnership with the Police Services in the UK to effect its removal.
The Hotline was formally launched in December 1996 to combat child sexual abuse images and criminally obscene adult content hosted in the UK.