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IWF at European Commission Expert Workshop

By Michael Tunks, IWF’s Policy and Public Affairs Manager

The IWF is committed to working collaboratively to develop a global response to online child sexual abuse, and we were delighted to attend the first of three expert workshops which enable us to share our technical knowledge and expertise across Europe. 

The workshop looked at the implementation of the 2011 Child Sexual Abuse Directive, hosted by the European Commission. The right people were at the table; law enforcement, prosecution services, other hotlines and non-for-profit organisations from various member states, alongside representatives from Europol and INTERPOL. The aim was to share best practice and build a collaborative forum between member states. For IWF, it also enabled us to influence the policy debate in this area on a transnational level.

The Directive sets out a range of measures the member states should seek to implement, and it is the European Commission’s responsibility to monitor compliance of states with these objectives. Therefore, it is crucial that the Directive remains relevant in the fast-paced world of technological development on the internet. The workshop was specifically focussed on the challenges that member states face surrounding the detection and removal of such content in both their own and in other countries, surveying attitudes towards blocking and considering potential solutions for these challenges now and into the future. It was clear from the discussion that practice varies considerably across member states, with resources, technology, and public and political support for such initiatives varying widely.

The workshop follows two reports presented to the European Parliament and the Council by the Commission which highlighted the differences in the ways that member states have implemented the Directive. The commission is now offering further support, specifically through bringing people together to share best practice. It is here where the IWF and the UK Government’s proposal for greater regulation through the Online Harms White Paper comes in. 

The UK is a global leader in this field and there was wide acknowledgement of how important our ability to proactively search had been in addition to receiving public reports. The IWF is currently the only hotline in Europe with this capability and this has enabled us to significantly reduce the amount of child sexual abuse content hosted in the UK. In 2014, we worked with partners to remove 31,266 URLs showing the sexual abuse of children. It was in the April of that year that we first began actively searching for content. Last year, that figure was 105,047 – more than three times that of 2014. 

Additionally, the IWF has some of the fastest take down times in the world and has a successful history of working productively with industry over the past 23 years to develop new technology and have content hosted outside the UK blocked from access. Alongside this, the UK Government’s Online Harms White Paper, published earlier this year, represents one of the first comprehensive plans to regulate the online environment and encourage a much more proactive approach to dealing with internet harms. This placed the UK in the unique position of attending the workshop with a comprehensive plan of addressing child sexual abuse material.  

For the IWF, our involvement in this workshop enables us to influence the policy debate within Europe, and to share our technical knowledge and expertise with fellow member states. This is particularly important at a time where our recent annual report statistics show that Europe has become the world leader in terms of hosting child sexual abuse material. Last year, we identified that 79% child sexual abuse material was hosted in Europe, with 47% in the Netherlands. We recognise that a global problem demands a global solution, and we are committed to working collaboratively to eradicate online child sexual abuse.  

The IWF looks forward to continuing to engage with our European counterparts, sharing our technical knowledge and expertise in building a collaborative, sustainable, transnational plan to eliminate online child sexual abuse. 

Report here