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 online distribution of
indecent images of children and criminally obscene adult content in the
UK. Since then interest in and support for our work has grown
considerably and our members now include internet service providers,
mobile phone operators, search providers, filtering and software
companies, the financial sector, and others.
The IWF is an independent self-regulatory body. It is governed by a
Board of ten Trustees consisting of an Independent Chair, six
independent Trustees and three industry Trustees. The Board monitor,
review and direct the IWF’s remit, strategy, policy and budget to enable
the IWF to achieve its objectives.
We operate an internet ‘Hotline’ for the public and IT
professionals to report their inadvertent exposure to potentially
criminal child sexual abuse content hosted around the world and criminally
obscene adult content hosted in the UK. We provide a national ‘notice and take-down’
service to any service provider hosting such content in the UK.
Our role is confined to interpreting relevant legislation to ensure
potentially criminal 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, as a result of this collaborative approach,
UK-hosted unlawful content within our remit has been virtually
Criminally Obscene Content and Extreme Pornography
In 2007 the Home Office asked the IWF to allow our public internet
reporting mechanism to be used for the reporting of UK-hosted extreme
pornography covered by Section 63 of the Criminal Justice and
Immigration Act 2008. Following consultation with IWF’s industry
members, our Board informed the government of our agreement to fulfil
this role, from 26 January 2009, as part of our original remit.
The new legislation is based on the principle that it is an offence
to possess extreme pornographic images. Although IWF has no role in the
investigation of possession offences by members of the public 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. Therefore, our industry members may
wish to refer to IWF as a point of expertise for advice on whether
content of which they have become aware is potentially illegal and
whether it should be considered for investigation by the police.
Assuming any such content is considered to be unlawful we will
ensure the IT professional reporting the content and their company are
paired with the relevant law enforcement unit so any potential offences
could be investigated.
The new legislation is not intended to extend the law to cover the
possession of material beyond that which is already illegal to publish
under the Obscene Publications Act 1959 (OPA). Therefore, the IWF will
continue to apply OPA legislation to such content in the course of
providing our national ‘notice and take-down’ service. On those rare
occasions where material believed to be unlawful is depicted on a
website hosted in the UK the IWF works in partnership with internet
service providers (ISPs), hosting companies, and the police to provide
information to assist investigations into the distributers of the
content and to help combat abuse of UK networks.
Unlike indecent images of children on the internet, IWF does not
have the remit to deal with criminally obscene adult content at a global
level. Comprehensive data regarding such content will not be collated
in order to facilitate its blocking.
The IWF URL list which is made available to companies in the online
sector so they can implement blocking solutions only contains specific
web pages depicting indecent images of children according to UK law
(Protection of Children Act 1978).
If you believe you have stumbled across extreme pornography on a
website hosted in the UK then it can be reported through the Internet
Watch Foundation’s online reporting form (www.iwf.org.uk
Where potentially illegal extreme pornographic material is found in
hard copy or on a computer it should be reported to the police in the
same way as any other criminal offence.
If individuals have concerns about the legality of content they possess they should seek their own legal advice.
This legislation contains defences to cover those who may have contact with the material in the course of their legitimate work.