IWF welcomes renewed Government commitment to tackling online child sexual abuse material

Published:  Thu 19 Dec 2019

The Internet Watch Foundation has welcomed the Government’s renewed commitment to making the internet safer for children, but warned the UK must face up to the demand it is creating for child sexual abuse material online.

Today (December 12), the Queen used her speech at the state opening of Parliament to reaffirm the Government’s commitment to improving online safety for children and other “vulnerable” users.

The IWF, the UK charity responsible for finding and removing child sexual abuse material from the internet, said the commitment to making the internet a safer place must be welcomed.

The Online Harms White Paper was published in April 2019. Among the proposals made are the introduction of a new “duty of care” on companies towards their users, with an independent regulator to oversee this framework.

The Queen said this legislation will continue to be developed in a bid to formulate a response to harmful online content.

The speech indicated the Government is looking to increase the pace of the reforms, and that they will publish “interim codes of practice” on terrorist content and child sexual abuse material.

Speaking during her speech, which was delivered in the House of Lords, the Queen said: “My ministers will develop legislation to improve internet safety for all.”

A briefing published along with the speech said: “Britain is leading the world in developing a comprehensive regulatory regime to keep people safe online, protect children and other vulnerable users.”

The April 2019 Online Harms White Paper sets out the Government’s plan for world -leading legislation to make the UK the “safest place in the world to be online”.

The Government said they will continue work to develop this legislation.

Susie Hargreaves OBE, IWF CEO, said: “This is an opportunity to demonstrate and build on Britain’s already world leading approach to tackling the spread of child sexual abuse images and videos online.

“It is of the upmost importance that the right thing is done for victims of child sexual abuse.

“The UK has a great record on stopping harmful content being hosted here. Very little child sexual abuse material is hosted in the UK thanks to the work of the IWF.

“However, there is a need to tackle the demand that the UK creates for this content.”

The National Crime Agency estimates that 144,000 of the people involved in "dark web sites” where child sexual abuse images are shared are based in the UK – this is reported to be 5% of all known users.

The Government said measures to keep people safe online must be done in a “proportionate way”.

They said any new legislation must ensure that freedom of expression is “upheld and promoted online, and that the value of a free and independent press is preserved”.

According to the Government, the next steps will include preparing legislation to “implement the final policy in response to the consultation”.

The Government briefing said: “Ahead of this legislation, the Government will publish interim codes of practice on tackling the use of the internet by terrorists and those engaged in child sexual abuse and exploitation.

“This will ensure companies take action now to tackle content that threatens our national security and the physical safety of children.”

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