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URL List Policy

IWF's core function is to provide an internet Hotline for the public to report their accidental exposure to criminal online content within our remit and as the national 'notice and takedown' body for that content so  it is quickly removed from circulation. We consider removal at source to be the most effective way of combating child sexual abuse images online and other criminal content within our remit which has been almost eradicated from UK networks.

We also work internationally to remove child sexual abuse images from the internet by passing details of every identified non-UK website to our partner Hotline in that country so they can investigate it within their own legislation and in cooperation with their national law enforcement agencies.

Whilst steps to have that content removed are in progress, the UK internet industry has voluntarily agreed to block access to them using a list provided by the IWF. We consider blocking to be a short-term disruption tactic which can help protect internet users from stumbling across these images, whilst processes to have them removed are instigated.

Further information

On 7 November 2002, IWF Board noted the legal advice which enabled the release of the child sexual abuse content URL list to IWF members for the purpose of implementing blocking or filtering solutions to protect their customers from being inadvertently exposed to abusive images of children. During Board meetings in late 2004 and 2005, IWF Board agreed the principles and procedures under which the child sexual abuse content URL list would be made available to members and under licence to specific non-members. 

Since 2004 many companies have chosen to make use of this list to protect their customers, namely, internet service providers, mobile operators, search providers, and filtering companies. National and international law enforcement agencies and INHOPE Hotlines may also access to the list on a mutual exchange basis.

Every URL on the list depicts indecent images of children, advertisements for or links to such content. The list typically contains 500 URLs at any one time and is updated twice a day to ensure all entries are live. As well as making the internet a safer place for everyone, this initiative can help to diminish the re-victimisation of children by restricting opportunities to view their sexual abuse and may disrupt the accessibility and supply of images to those who seek them out.

Unfortunately, blocking cannot put an end to offenders abusing children nor can it effectively deny determined criminals who are actively seeking such material.

Our systems and processes in compiling this list are periodically inspected and audited by eminent independent experts. The URLs are assessed according to UK law, a process reinforced by reciprocal police training with each image being categorised in line with criteria set out by the UK Sentencing Council.

IWF’s role in this blocking initiative is restricted to the compilation and provision of a list: the blocking solution is entirely a matter for the company deploying the list. Our list is designed and provided for blocking specific URLs only. Any decision to convert or adapt the list to block whole domains may lead to the overblocking of legitimate content and is not supported by the IWF.

Blocking facilitated by the use of our list applies only to potentially criminal URLs related to child sexual abuse content on publicly available websites. The distribution of these images through other channels such as peer-to-peer is a matter for our police partners. IWF has no plans to extend the type of content included on the list.

Notifying the website owner of any blocked URL is the responsibility of the Hotline or relevant law enforcement agency in the country believed to be hosting the content. However any party with a legitimate association (*1)  with the content or a potential victim or the victim’s representative, hosting company, publisher or internet consumer who believes they are being prevented from accessing legal content may appeal against the accuracy of an assessment.

(*1) A party affected by the issue of a notice or blocked by the addition of a URL to the IWF URL List.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

We have a responsibility to provide detailed information about our facilitation of the blocking initiative therefore we hope these FAQs can address any questions regarding our role in the process.

IWF URL List Recipients

The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) provides a dynamic list of individual web pages with child sexual abuse content to its members, companies within their group and Licensees that have the ability to filter and block access to such content.

To see which companies and Licensees have voluntarily committed to block access to child sexual abuse web pages thereby protecting consumers of their services from being inadvertently exposed to such content click here

IWF URL List Policy and Procedures

The policy and procedures which are adhered to regarding the assessment and listing of child sexual abuse URLs can be found here (PDF 187KB).

Blocking Good Practice

Whilst the IWF facilitates this blocking initiative through the provision of a URL list and does not stipulate which blocking method is used, we do provide good practice guidance regarding the way in which blocking is conducted. These good practice recommendations for blocking are designed to maintain the principle of transparency and minimise over-blocking and latency issues.

Report here