The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) was formed in 1996 following agreement between the government, police and internet industry that a partnership approach was needed to tackle the distribution of child sexual abuse content online. Since then interest in and support for our work has grown considerably and our funding members now include internet service providers, mobile phone operators, search providers, filtering and software companies, the financial sector and others.
We operate a well established and recognised internet 'Hotline' for the public and IT professionals to report their inadvertent exposure to potentially illegal child sexual abuse, criminally obscene and incitement to racial hatred content online and we provide a universal 'notice and takedown' service to any UK company hosting potentially illegal content within our remit.
Our role is confined to interpreting relevant legislation to ensure potentially illegal online content within our remit is traced, reported and removed wherever possible. We work in partnership with our members and stakeholders, the public, law enforcement agencies, government departments and Hotlines abroad and, as a result of this collaborative approach, child sexual abuse content hosted in the UK has been virtually eradicated; from 18% in 1997 to less than 1% since 2003.
In our experience it is very rare for extreme pornography, as defined by the government, to be hosted in the UK but as the proposed legislation is based on the principle that it will be an offence to 'possess' extreme pornography, it is conceivable that IT professionals managing networks, abuse teams and others charged with moderating online services could be inadvertently exposed to this type of content.
The establishment of referral partnerships with relevant authorities is being addressed and we are engaged in the appropriate consultation process with our Board, industry members and other stakeholders as regards any potential IWF role in providing a reporting mechanism and tracing and assessment body for this content.
Assuming content assessed by our analysts was judged to be extreme pornography, we would ensure the IT professional reporting the content and therefore their company were paired with an appropriate police body so any apparent offences committed by a potential offender could be investigated.
The proposals create adequate defences to cover those who may have contact with the material in the course of their legitimate work and those who stumble across the material accidentally or are sent it unsolicited and do not keep it for an unreasonable time, without recourse to the IWF or police agencies.