How we started
In 1996, the Metropolitan Police identified indecent images of children on some UK based newsgroups. They notified the Internet Service Providers Association (ISPA).
At the time, the police believed this may have constituted a publication offence under the Protection of Children Act 1978 (England and Wales), by the UK internet service providers (ISPs).
The internet industry in the UK tried to find a way to combat the hosting of these ‘indecent’ images of children, whilst protecting the tech community from being held criminally liable for providing access to the illegal imagery.
It was a difficult problem, both legally and technically. The penny began to drop. Technology could make it easier to harm kids.
Something had to be done. Discussions were held 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). The outcome of the talks was that ISPA, the London Internet Exchange (LINX) and the Safety Net Foundation would create an R3 Safety Net Agreement regarding rating, reporting and responsibility.
An important element of the Agreement was to established an independent organisation to receive, assess and trace public complaints about child sexual abuse imagery on the internet and to support the development of specific website rating systems.
The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) was born.
Since we were set up in 1996 we’ve been running a Hotline service for people to report potentially criminal images and videos of child sexual abuse. We’ve also been responsible for issuing ‘takedown notices’ to UK ISPs in partnership with the police. This means that they can remove the illegal imagery.
Our Hotline was formally launched in December 1996, to combat child sexual abuse images and criminally obscene adult content hosted in the UK. Since then, our work has had to develop rapidly to stay ahead of a very technical curve. The spread of illegal images of children online exploded with the internet.
The criminals who abuse children, then perpetuate the abuse by sharing the suffering online are ruthless. And contrary to popular belief, they don’t restrict their illegal activities to the dark web. These abusers use legitimate services to help them circulate illegal imagery.
That’s why we’ve created Tech for Good, to build unique tools and services to help the tech community make their services safer and stronger. That way they can help defend and protect children, while making the internet safer for all.
Read more about our journey to protect children online in our Annual Report.