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IWF working with Ministers to protect children during coronavirus lockdown

'The Minister of State for Security, James Brokenshire and the Minister for Safeguarding, Victoria Atkins engaged the Internet Watch Foundation on the threat during the pandemic.'

Victoria Atkins (left) meets IWF CEO Susie Hargreaves

Ministers are working with the IWF to keep children safe during the coronavirus pandemic amid warnings criminals have been "looking for new, expedient ways to exploit vulnerable people".

In a written question, non-affiliated Peer Lord Taylor of Warwick asked the Government what steps are being taken to protect children from online grooming during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Home Office Minister Baroness Williams of Trafford said the Government is “committed to tackling online child sexual exploitation and abuse”.

She said the Government has been engaging with the Internet Watch Foundation to counter online child abuse and exploitation.

Baroness Williams said many parents may feel “concerned” about the activities and content their children are accessing during this period.

Responding to Lord Taylor’s question, Baroness Williams said: “The Minister of State for Security, James Brokenshire and the Minister for Safeguarding, Victoria Atkins engaged the Internet Watch Foundation on the threat during the pandemic.

“The Security Minister has written to industry partners on countering online child sexual exploitation and abuse during the pandemic.

“He also attended a roundtable hosted by the Internet Watch Foundation with industry partners to discuss what they are seeing at this time, as well as the safeguards and protective measures they are putting in place.

Baroness Williams said the Government is continuing to engage with technology companies around the Voluntary Principles to Counter Online Child Sexual Exploitation and Abuse, a framework of principles launched by the Five Country Ministerial partners in March.

In collaboration with the Five Country governments, our partners in the technology industry have developed a new campaign to help keep children safe during COVID-19.

Baroness Williams acknowledged that, while a lot of work is going on to help keep children safe online during the pandemic, more needs to be done. She said new legislation will make children safer.

She said: “While some companies are working proactively to tackle illegal and harmful content and activity that occurs on their platforms, we know that more needs to be done.

“The Online Harms White Paper sets out our plans to introduce world-leading legislation to tackle harmful content online and make the UK the safest place in the world to be online.

This legislation will include a legal duty of care on online platforms, backed up by an independent regulator to hold them to account.”

This comes as the Government publishes a report following the Prime Minister’s summit on Hidden Harms, attended by IWF CEO, Susie Hargreaves.

The report highlights how the IWF has seen nine million attempts in the UK alone to access known child sexual abuse material in the first month of lockdown.

According to the report: “We also know that perpetrators have been looking for new, expedient ways to exploit vulnerable people in our society and we are seeing concerning levels of illegal activity.”

The report recommends that the Online Harms Bill “must clearly set out the responsibility of technology companies to prevent their platforms being used for the most serious abuse”.

It added that the Government is committed to introducing a “world-leading regulatory framework to make the UK the safest place in the world to be online”.

Last month, the IWF joined calls for a full response to the White Paper consultation to be made as soon as possible.

Ms Hargreaves said: “We are really pleased with how the Government has stepped up and listened to concerns during the pandemic, and demonstrates just how seriously the Government takes the issue of the protection of children online.

"We look forward to continuing to work with them as they develop their approach to online harms. However, we believe this legislation does now require a further injection of pace.

“We understand the current Covid-19 crisis was unforeseen and has impacted on the timetable for legislation, but a full response to the White Paper consultation is needed as soon as possible, especially with more children spending time online at home during the coronavirus pandemic.

“We’re pleased the Government has recognised the IWF’s unique role and important work in the UK, and that our analysts were recognised with key worker status, allowing them to continue their vital work throughout the pandemic lockdown.

“This will undoubtedly have had an impact on keeping children safer, and I am so proud of the whole team.

Any parents who feel concerned about their children’s safety online during this period can access Government guidance at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-keeping-children-safe-online/coronavirus-covid-19-support-for-parents-and-carers-to-keep-children-safe-online

Report here