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As a precaution against the COVID-19 coronavirus, the Internet Watch Foundation will be operating at a reduced capacity. We provide a vital service for the public and are committed to staying open but there is likely to be a delay responding to reports, emails and calls. People can still report child sexual abuse imagery as normal here.

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DNS OVER HTTPS: It should not have come this

By Fred Langford, IWF Deputy CEO and CTO

Image of IWF Deputy CEO and CTO, Fred Langford

We’ve made our position on DNS over HTTPS (DoH) clear. So clear, in fact, that the industry has started to listen.

You can read my previous blogs on this issue here and here.

We are engaging with Google, Cloudflare and Mozilla, and welcome their interest and concern. The conversations have started, and we hope to work productively to protect victims of child sexual abuse. 

But it should not have come to this. 

The IWF exists to eradicate the spread of online child sexual abuse imagery. It should not exist to remind tech companies of their responsibilities to their users. Unfortunately for this issue, it seems, those at the forefront of developing the technology were not joined up with those working in public policy and online safety. 

The debate surrounding DNS over HTTPS is a symptom of a wider problem. The best interests of children should be at the centre of any policy decision before the tech is developed. The impact of a new internet standard on victims of child sexual abuse should not be addressed reactively.

Every five minutes we find a webpage that shows a child being sexually abused. Last year we identified 105,047 such webpages, each containing from one to thousands of images. This year, we will surpass that figure. 

This problem is not going away. As the New York Times recently published, last year tech companies reported more than 45 million online photos and videos of children being sexually abused to the National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC).

The National Crime Agency estimates that 80,000 UK users pose a sexual threat to children online, and that 144,000 UK users are active on hidden sites where images of the sexual abuse of children are traded.

How might these numbers change if the current safeguards are no longer in place?

In previous blogs, I’ve talked about a little girl – Olivia. Olivia was rescued from her abusers in 2013, but our analysts still see her, on average, five times every day. 

We’re pleased that we’re now actively working with Google, Cloudflare and Mozilla and that the issue is being taken seriously. I hope that we can continue to engage in productive conversation and that, one day, victims of child sexual abuse will become more than an afterthought. 

You can read more about our position on DoH here and here. In August, 19 of our parliamentary Champions supported us in an open letter, which you can find here

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