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IWF’s position statement on regulation of the internet: Top CEO warns of consequences of regulation

Internet Watch Foundation’s (IWF) CEO, Susie Hargreaves OBE, puts forward a voice of reason by urging politicians and policy makers to take a balanced approach to internet regulation which avoids a “heavy cost to the victims of child sexual abuse”.

Picture Susie

IWF has set out its views on internet regulation ahead of the publication of the Government’s Online Harms White Paper.
It suggests that traditional approaches to regulation cannot apply to the internet and that human rights should play a big role in any regulatory approach. 

The IWF, as part of the UK Safer Internet Centre, supports the Government’s ambition to make the UK the safest place in the world to go online, and the best place to start a digital business.

IWF has a world-leading reputation in identifying and removing child sexual abuse images and videos from the internet. It takes a co-regulatory approach to combating child sexual abuse images and videos by working in partnership with the internet industry, law enforcement and governments around the world. It offers a suite of tools and services to the online industry to keep their networks safer. In the past 22 years, the internet watchdog has assessed – with human eyes – more than 1 million reports. 

Ms Hargreaves said: “Tackling criminal child sexual abuse material requires a global multi-stakeholder effort. We’ll use our 22 years’ experience in this area to help the government and policy makers to shape a regulatory framework which is sustainable and puts victims at its heart. In order to do this, any regulation in this area should be developed with industry and other key stakeholders rather than imposed on them. 

“We recommend an outcomes-based approach where the outcomes are clearly defined and the government should provide clarity over the results it seeks in dealing with any harm. There also needs to be a process to monitor this and for any results to be transparently communicated.”

But, warns Ms Hargreaves, any solutions should be tested with users including understanding impacts on victims: “The UK already leads the world at tackling online child sexual abuse images and videos but there is definitely more that can be done, particularly in relation to tackling grooming and livestreaming, and of course, regulating harmful content is important. 

“My worries, however, are about rushing into knee-jerk regulation which creates perverse incentives or unintended consequences to victims and could undo all the successful work accomplished to date. Ultimately, we must avoid a heavy cost to victims of online sexual abuse.”

IWF 'Online Harms' Position Paper

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