Fight against online child sexual abuse content is being won in the UK, but the global threat remains as big as ever, report says

Published:  Mon 22 Jan 2018


A report published today shows the UK has made huge strides in tackling the scourge of child sexual abuse imagery online - but the problem globally is as big as ever.

The briefing comes at a time when the Government is currently considering responses to its recent green paper consultation on the Internet Safety Strategy, which contained a number of proposals for social media companies in particular “to do more”.

The report, called Technology Briefing Series: Child Sexual Abuse Imagery, is the first in a series of briefings by the cross-party thinktank Demos.

It is thought the model of industry self-regulation pioneered by the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) means less than 0.1 percent of this content is now hosted in the UK, down from 18 percent in 1996.

But today most of the material the IWF identifies is hosted in Europe (60 percent) and North America (37 percent). The Netherlands, the USA and Canada are the most frequent national hosts of child sexual abuse imagery.

The newly appointed Chair of the Internet Watch Foundation, Andrew Puddephatt, will tell a meeting in Westminster today that the UK is leading the world in the fight against online images of child sexual abuse.

“The model of independent self-regulation, which has been pioneered in the UK by the IWF, is working,” he said.

“There is always a debate about how far governments should intervene in the oversight and regulation of the internet but the fight against child sexual abuse imagery shows how much can be achieved when the industry works together with everyday internet users.

“The Government is currently considering the way forward in this area with its Internet Safety Strategy response due in the spring and we would urge ministers to look at the success the IWF has had as a home-grown, world leader in this area. The IWF has shown that with the right quality assurance and audits in place independent self-regulation is the way forward.

“There are huge challenges ahead for the online world but if we want to keep it a safe space then it is essential that national governments work with, not against, the industry.”

The report says new technology has made the task of tackling child sexual abuse images and videos online significantly more difficult, with new channels of access and distribution that are often based overseas and change frequently with technological advances.

It says: “While the problem is borderless, law enforcement remains geographically constrained. There are no easy solutions to this problem.

“There is a significant amount of investment in using technology to identify material, which is proving valuable in tackling the problem. This needs further support.

“Police successes in identifying and prosecuting criminals who operate in this area have tended to rely on both international co-operation and digital detective work. Investment in this type of policing is necessary.

“When resources are stretched, it is necessary for policing to focus resources on the most serious offences: those which can be most effective in reducing harm to children.”

Simon Milner, Policy Director at Facebook EMEA, said: “Nothing is more important than the safety of people who use Facebook and we are proud of our work with the Internet Watch Foundation in the fight against child exploitation online.

“We’ve spent the past decade working with safety experts including the IWF, CEOP, and the UK Safer Internet Centre to develop powerful tools to keep this illegal activity off Facebook. The model of self-regulation is one we know the Government takes seriously and we will continue to collaborate with industry, NGOs, experts, and Government to address this and other important issues.”

Alex Krasodomski-Jones, researcher at the Centre for the Analysis of Social Media at Demos, said: “Technology policy is challenging: it tests our ability as a society and democracy to grapple with difficult problems and find sensible solutions. Demos is committed to improving the public conversation around these issues, to bringing expert voices to the debate, and to help inform difficult decisions.

“In partnership with the IWF, we are calling for a better dialogue between politicians, experts, the media and the public around technology, its impact on our lives and our democracy. In doing so, we hope to encourage good solutions to complicated issues.”

You can view the full report here.

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