IWF audited on human rights

Published:  Mon 27 Jan 2014

The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) – a self-regulatory and charitable body set up to rid the internet of child sexual abuse images – has opened itself up to judgement by a top human rights lawyer.

A human rights audit has been carried out by former Director of Public Prosecutions Lord Ken Macdonald. He concluded the IWF’s fundamental work is entirely consistent with human rights law.

Addressing the IWF’s Members at its AGM on 26 November 2013, Lord Macdonald said he was “deeply impressed” with the quality of staff and their “commitment and attention to freedom of expression and privacy rights”.

Lord Macdonald pointed to ways in which the IWF could further enhance standards and processes. Nine recommendations are made in the report published today 27 January 2014, seven of which have been immediately agreed by the IWF Board, led by former Director General of the Prison Service, Sir Richard Tilt.

Sir Richard Tilt, Independent Chair of the IWF Board, said: “It is clear that Lord Macdonald has undertaken this work with the highest degree of rigour and detail.

“The IWF Board is grateful for the findings and we have immediately been able to accept seven of the nine recommendations. The board will not take decision on the other two until consultations have taken place with a variety of stakeholders.

“For many years the IWF was seen by some as being a highly controversial organisation with regards to enabling the online industry to block or filter images and videos of child sexual abuse.

“I’m pleased to say that the discussions have moved on now and this thorough review of the IWF’s compliance with human rights legislation puts those arguments to bed.

“The IWF does vital work protecting citizens from stumbling upon horrendous images of sexual abuse and prevents those child victims from being re-victimised time and time again.”

Among his findings, Lord Macdonald concludes:

    The IWF’s fundamental work of restricting criminally obscene adult material and all child sexual abuse material is consistent with human rights law;
    The IWF, although a private, industry-funded body, carries out public acts and therefore its policies and decision-making are susceptible to judicial review – a conclusion welcomed by the IWF Board;
    That the IWF should appoint a retired judge to act as an appeals commissioner and Chief Inspector to oversee disputes and inspections respectively and the Board should contain at least one acknowledged expert in human rights law – conclusions welcomed by the IWF Board.

The full report can be read here (PDF, 2MB).

Recommendations in the report with responses by the IWF Board

1.    IWF should in future restrict its remit to child sexual abuse material

IWF Board: A decision on this item has been deferred and will follow conversations with stakeholders regarding this recommendation.

2.    IWF should appoint an expert in human rights law to its Board

IWF Board: Accepted.

3.    IWF should appoint a senior legal figure as its new Chief Inspector

IWF Board: Accepted.

4.    IWF’s appeals process should include, as a final stage, a determination by the Chief Inspector

IWF Board: Accepted.

5.    Inspections of IWF’s work should take place at least every two years. The Inspection team, headed by the new Chief Inspector, should include one expert in human rights law

IWF Board: Accepted. Inspections already take place every two years.

6.    If IWF moves into more proactive investigations, its analyst training should be updated to meet the further responsibilities inherent in an investigative role

IWF Board: Accepted.

7.    In any proactive investigations, IWF should liaise closely with police

IWF Board: Accepted.

8.    Proposed increases in IWF’s industry funding should be maintained and expanded in order to make a move into more proactive work feasible in the longer term

IWF Board: Accepted.

9.    IWF should not, at present, investigate peer-to-peer file sharing. Instead, in light of the fact that it has subsumed CEOP with the apparent intention that investigations into online child sexual abuse material should be mainstreamed into the fight against serious crime, the National Crime Agency should now give these investigations high priority.

IWF Board: This decision has been deferred. It will follow a peer to peer consultation currently taking place and the pilot project with Google, Microsoft, the Home Office and CEOP. The IWF will be working in partnership to identify pathways to illegal material being shared via torrent feeds and subsequently remove access via the two market leaders in search. This project was announced on 18 November.

Notes to editors:

Lord Macdonald aimed to give a view of whether the IWF is a public authority in relation to the Human Rights Act 1998; to conduct an assessment of governance, operational policies and operational practices of the IWF against the frameworks of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Human Rights Act 1998; to advise how compliant the IWF is with these and advise how any policies or practices may be improved to better ensure compliance with these.

The audit aimed to tackle a number of perceived criticisms “in relation to [the IWF’s] structure, its relationship with the online industry and, as the critics allege, its exercise of significant powers of online censorship in the absence of governmental, police or judicial imprimatur” (p7).

Contact: the IWF press office on +44 (0) 1223 203030 or 07929 553679.
About the Internet Watch Foundation

The IWF is the Hotline to report:

    child sexual abuse content hosted anywhere in the world;
    criminally obscene adult content hosted in the UK;
    non-photographic child sexual abuse images hosted in the UK.

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The IWF is part of the UK Safer Internet Centre, working with Childnet International and the South West Grid for Learning to promote the safe and responsible use of technology.

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