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Our history

IWF timeline 1996-2016

See our key milestones from the past 20 years on our interactive timeline.

Since 1996 our analysts have manually assessed nearly 700,000 reports and removed over 250,000 individual webpages of criminal content, primarily child sexual abuse images and videos. Importantly, our work has also led to the rescue of victims from further abuse.

We work hard to implement new technologies to improve the identification and removal of these images and videos. We use our research to help industry and policy-makers make informed decisions. And we employ ever-more innovative tactics and services to reduce online child sexual abuse images, globally. 

As a result of our work with the internet industry , as well as our strong partnershipsnationally and internationally, we have almost completely removed child sexual abuse imagery hosted in the UK. Less than 1% of the content is now hosted in the UK. We want to help other countries achieve the same result

How we started

In 1996 the Metropolitan Police notified the Internet Service Providers Association (ISPA) that some newsgroup content being carried by UK internet service providers (ISPs) were indecent images of children. The police believed this may have constituted a publication offence under the Protection of Children Act 1978 (England and Wales) by the ISPs. Efforts were then made to find a way to combat the hosting of such content in the UK whilst protecting the internet industry from being held criminally liable for providing access to the content. 

Following discussions between the former Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), the Home Office, the Metropolitan Police, some ISPs and the Safety Net Foundation (formed by the Dawe Charitable Trust) an R3 Safety Net Agreement regarding rating, reporting and responsibility was created by ISPA, the London Internet Exchange (LINX) and the Safety Net Foundation. A key outcome of the Agreement was the formation of the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF). 

The IWF was established to fulfil an independent role in receiving, assessing and tracing public complaints about child sexual abuse content on the internet and to support the development of website rating systems. Since we were set up in 1996 we have been operating a Hotline service for the public to report potentially criminal content and we have been issuing ‘takedown notices’ to UK ISPs in partnership with the police so they can remove the content.

The Hotline was formally launched in December 1996 to combat child sexual abuse images and criminally obscene adult content hosted in the UK. Since then we have been continually improving our practices and developing unique services for the internet industry to help them make their services safer for their users.

Read more about our results along the way below.

Key information through the years

  • 2016

    Our 2016 stats showed that every five minutes an analyst assessed a webpage. Every nine minutes a webpage shown a child being sexually abused.

    During the year, we’ve worked to remove 57,335 webpages containing child sexual abuse images or videos. This content was hosted on 2,416 domains worldwide. Five top level domains accounted for 80% of all webpages identified as containing child sexual abuse images and videos. Click here for more information.

    We saw a shift in the location of content from North America to Europe. 60% of the child sexual abuse webpages we saw was hosted in Europe. Click here for more information. 

    Content hosted in the UK, however, is now less than 0.1%. This is down from 0.2% in 2015, and from 18% when we started in 1996.

    Our URL List was sent across all seven continents and 53,552 unique URLs were included on it. 

    Our Analysts assessed 293,818 individual images to create 122,972 quality assessed unique hashes for our Image Hash List.

    We took action against 1,559 URLs on 272 websites using new gTLDs. That’s a 258% increase on 2015. 

    2,213 takedown notices were issued for newsgroups containing child sexual abuse images, in contrast with 408 in 2015. That’s an increase of 442%. 

    In 2016, we’ve uncovered 1,572 disguised websites used to hide child sexual abuse imagery, an increase of 112% on the 743 disguised websites identified in 2015.

    If you’d like more stats please take a look at our 2016 Annual Report.

    We've set up reporting portals in 16 countries including India, Uganda, Bermuda and the British Virgin Islands. These portals provide people around the world with a safe and anonymous way to report online child sexual abuse imagery.

    Our Image Hash List was named "Innovation of the Year 2016" at the CloudHosting Awards 2016.

    Our Chief Executive, Susie Hargreaves, was awarded Order of the British Empire (OBE) for her work on the field of child protection. 
    We welcomed 28 new companies to Membership.

    You can read more about our achievements on our 2016 Annual Report microsite.

  • 2015
    We processed 112,975 reports. During the year, a total of 68,092 reports were confirmed as containing child sexual abuse images or videos. That’s a 118% increase on 2014.
     
    In a single, record breaking day, we actioned 941 webpages.
     
    We created a new game-changing service, to help in the fight against child sexual abuse imagery: the IWF Image Hash List
     
    We increased our work globally and began developing new international Reporting Portals for countries without reporting a hotline. These will launch in 2016.
     
    We welcomed 11 new companies to Membership.
  • 2014

    We processed 74,119 reports in 2014. Of these, we assed 31,266 URLs as child sexual abuse imagery, up 137% on the year before. We attributed the difference to more analysts and a new way of working. Click here to read our full trends analysis.

    We recruited seven additional analysts, taking the total to 12.

    In April the IWF was granted the ability to proactively seek out child sexual abuse imagery using intelligence-based methods. The Director of Public Prosecutions updated a Memorandum of Understanding which exists between the Crown Prosecution Service and the Association of Chief Police Officers.

  • 2013

    We processed 51,186 in 2013.

    Mauritius became the first country to use our international reporting solution ; a solution enabling countries without a hotline to use our reporting service.

    A new funding model regarding our membership subscription was developed and approved. It meant we could deliver a package of enhanced activities aimed at increasing our effectiveness.

  • 2012

    We processed 39,211 reports in 2012.

    We began measuring the speed that child sexual abuse imagery was removed from within the UK in minutes rather than days, from the point at which the hosting company was notified.

    We launched an international programme of work, to enable countries without a hotline to benefit from using IWF’s hotline services. The result is the IWF Reporting Portal .

    We became a member of the European Financial Coalition (EFC) Stats and Data Analysis Working Group.

    56 politicians signed up to be IWF Champions. It’s an initiative enabling them to publicly show their support for our work, and a way for them to give something back to the cause by, for example, raising awareness or hosting an event.

    Sir Richard Tilt  was appointed IWF Independent Chair in January 2012.

    Our Director of Global Operations was elected as President of the INHOPE.

  • 2011

    We processed 41,877 reports in 2011.

    We removed ‘Incitement to racial hatred’ from our remit in 2011 as a new service for reporting all hate crimes online (www.report-it.org.uk Opens in New Window) was launched by the police. All reports of incitement to racial hatred content hosted in the UK previously reported to the IWF should now be reported directly to True Vision.

    Susie Hargreaves took over from Peter Robbins OBE, QPM as Chief Executive of the IWF.

  • 2010

    We processed 48,702 reports in 2010.

    We gained 7 new Members.

    A new funding model regarding our policy on membership subscription was developed and approved.

    We extended our remit to include UK hosted non-photographic child sexual abuse images on 6th April.

    We introduced a new simultaneous alert service for US Members.

    We were a finalist in the 2010 National Business Awards, Better Regulation category, a leading programme in recognising excellence in business achievement, innovation and success in the UK.

    We were certified as ISO27001 compliant for another year.

  • 2009

    We processed 38,173 in 2009.

    We gained 18 organisations new Members.

    We began to accept reports of extreme pornography from the public within the criminally obscene element of our remit in January 2009.

    Professor Ian Walden became the interim Independent Chair of our Board.

    Eve Salomon became Independent Chair of our Board.

    We processed our 275,000th report since our inception in 1996.

    We became a member of the European Financial Coalition (EFC) Law Enforcement Working Group.

    In June 2009 the Ministry of Justice asked us to extend our national Hotline to enable the public to report online non-photographic visual depictions of the sexual abuse of children, covered by Sections 62 to 69 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009. Following consultation with our Funding Council of industry members, in October 2009 the IWF Board informed government of our agreement to fulfil this role from 6 April 2010.

    We were certified as ISO27001 compliant for another year.

  • 2008

    We processed 33,947 reports in 2008.

    We gained 21 new Members.

    Our ‘Hotline’ systems, assessment, security and processes were independently audited and we were  found to be compliant with best practice standards.

    We were awarded the 2008 Nominet Best Practice Challenge award for raising industry standards.

    We responded to the Culture, Media and Sport Committee Inquiry into harmful content on the internet and in video games in July 2008.

    We were invited to join the Executive Board of the new UK Council for Child Internet Safety (UKCCIS).

    We were a finalist in British Computer Society’s IT Awards 2008.

    We were certified as ISO27001 compliant for another year.

    Amanda Jordan’s OBE term in office as Chair of our Board came to an end.

  • 2007

    We processed 34,871 reports in 2007.

    We gained 12 new Members.

    The recommendations which were outlined in the 2006 governance review took effect in 2007. This included the development of two subcommittees to our Board as well as increased number of Board meetings to be held throughout the year.

    The Home Office asked us to allow its public internet reporting mechanism to be used for the reporting of UK-hosted extreme pornography covered by Section 63 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008. Following consultation with our industry members, our Board informed the government of our agreement to fulfil this role, from 26 January 2009, as part of the IWF’s existing remit.

    We marked our first IWF Awareness Day in October 2007.

    We responded to the Byron Review of the risks to children from exposure to potentially harmful or inappropriate material on the internet and in video games in October 2007.

    We received a Nominet’s Best Practice Challenge Special Award for multi-stakeholder cooperation for our exemplary co-operative approach involving industry, charities, police and Government and the outcomes achieved.

    We were ISO27001 accredited in September.

    We were a finalist in the 2007 National Business Awards, Better Regulation category, a leading programme in recognising excellence in business achievement, innovation and success in the UK.

    Our Ten Year Anniversary Campaign was a finalist in the Marketing Society Awards for Excellence 2007, nominated in the Marketing A Cause (Not For Profit) category.

    Our Hotline Manager was elected as Vice President of INHOPE, the association of Hotline providers.

    We responded to the EC consultation on Safer Internet and Online Technologies for Children in 2007.

  • 2006

    We processed 31,776 reports in 2006.

    We gained 20 new Members in 2006.

    Amanda Jordan OBE became Chair of our Board.

    We launced our ten year anniversary campaign with several conferences and an advertising campaign throughout the country.

    We commissioned an independent governance review lead by Julia Unwin CBE to enable us to consider the most effective structure for Board and industry relationships in light of the fast growing membership.

    Our systems and processes for compiling the IWF URL list of child sexual abuse images were inspected and validated by two eminent professionals and found to be consistent with best practice.

    Becta, the Government’s lead partner in the strategic development and delivery of its e-strategy for schools and the learning and skills sectors, endorsed blocking access to URLs on the IWF URL List as a requirement for any services provider supplying managed internet services to schools.

    The Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) Centre was launched in April 2006.

  • 2005

    We processed 23,658 reports in 2005.

    We gained 15 new Members.

    We processed our 100,000th report.

    Our Operations Manager was elected to be a Vice-President of INHOPE.

    We responded to the Ministry of Justice consultation on the possession of extreme pornographic material.

  • 2004

    We processed 17,255 reports in 2004.

    We gained 18 new Members.

    Following an internal review our Board introduced a number of changes to its governance arrangements in January 2004, including a revised Constitution, Board Members Handbook, remit and a Code of Practice for our full members based in the UK hosting online content.

    A Memorandum of Understanding between the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) decreed that the IWF were to be treated as a ‘relevant authority’ for the receipt of complaints relating to indecent images of children.

    Our Board agreed the principles and procedures under which the IWF’s Child Sexual Abuse Images and Content URL List would be made available to members and via license to specific non-members.

    BT launched its ‘Cleanfeed’ initiative in June. This initiative is based on blocking access to a list of URLs depicting child sexual abuse content provided by the IWF.

    We converted from a not-for-profit company to charitable status.

    Our ‘Hotline’ systems, assessment, security and processes were independently audited and found to be compliant with best practice standards.

  • 2003

    We processed 19,553 reports in.

    We gained 18 new Members.

    Less than 1% of child sexual abuse content known to us was traced to being hosted in the UK and subject to our ‘notice and takedown’ procedures.

    Our revised governance structure took effect in January 2003 with a new smaller Board of three industry members and six independent members plus an Independent Chair.

    The Sexual Offences Act 2003 increased the age of a child from 16 to 18 and created a limited defence to the offence of ‘making’ indecent images of children to ensure the IWF and other appropriate professionals can carry out their work without fear of prosecution.

  • 2002

    We processed 17,868 reports in 2002.

    We gained 7 new Members.

    Peter Robbins OBE, QPM was appointed as Chief Executive of IWF.

    A governance review led to the recommendation of a smaller IWF Board which was implemented in 2003.

    A remit review led to an increased focus on combating criminal content. The labelling and education part of the IWF’s role was discontinued.

    A new ‘notice and takedown' Code of Practice was produced for all our Members hosting online content.

    Following legal advice, the IWF Board sanctioned the release of a child sexual abuse content URL list to our Members for the purpose of implementing blocking or filtering solutions to protect consumers from being inadvertently exposed to sexually abusive images of children.

    The UK Cards Association joined us as Members in a new initiative to combat the use of credit cards for commercial websites hosting indecent images of children.

  • 2001

    We processed 11,357 reports in 2001.

    We gained 5 Members.

    Newsgroup policies were adopted with Member ISPs advised not to host any newsgroup found to contain child sexual abuse images on a regular basis or have a name which appeared to advertise paedophile content.

    We were invited to join the new Home Office Task Force on Child Protection on the Internet.

    We were awarded a ‘Positive Contribution to the Internet Industry’ ISPA Award.

    We were awarded a ‘the organisation or government department which has implemented regulation in the best interests of the consumer’ BT Award.

  • 2000

    We processed 8,942 reports in 2000.

    We gained 1 Member.

    Reports assessed to depict potentially criminally content hosted in the UK decreased by 75% compared to the previous year.

    The IWF was re-launched in January 2000.

    A new governance structure came in to operation with a single Board of 4 industry Members and 8 independent Members headed by a new Independent Chair, Roger Darlington, with a separate Funding Council of all the Member companies.

    Incitement to racial hatred content hosted in the UK was added to our remit following a request by the DTI and in consultation with our IWF and Funding Council.

  • 1999

    We processed 4,297 reports in 1999.

    We gained 1 Member.

    The DTI and the Home Office report commissioned from Denton Hall and KPMG was published in January. It recommended a reform of governance with more independence and the appointment of an Independent Chair.

    We helped set up the Internet Content Rating Association (ICRA).

    We helped to found INHOPE Opens in New Window, the association of Hotlines throughout Europe in November 1999.

  • 1998

    We processed 1,991 reports in 1998.

    We gained two Members.

    We introduced online reporting.

    18% of child sexual abuse content known to us was traced to being hosted in the UK and subject to our ‘notice and takedown’ procedures.

    The DTI and the Home Office appointed Denton Hall and KPMG to carry out an independent review of the IWF in March 1998.

  • 1997

    We processed 1,291 reports in our first year of operation.

    We had 5 funding Members in our first year.

    A Policy Board was created in January 1997 in order to address the rating proposals in the R3 Agreement.

    The Steering Group was succeeded by a Management Group made up of representatives from the funding companies.

    The funding of the IWF moved from the Dawe Charitable Trust to the companies on the IWF Management Board.

    The IWF created the Internet Content Rating for Europe (INCORE) organisation as a partnership of European organisations concerned with internet rating and regulation issues.

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