The Internet Watch Foundation is to take a more “proactive” approach to combating child abuse images, following a meeting between ISPs and the Culture Secretary, Maria Miller.
The announcement follows a meeting chaired by Miller, and attended by Google, Microsoft, Yahoo!,Twitter, Facebook, Sky, Virgin Media, BT, TalkTalk, Vodafone, Three, Everything Everywhere and O2.
The main outcome of the meeting appears to be that the government will ask the Internet Watch Foundation to actively seek out child abuse content, rather than just responding reactively to reports via the IWF hotline.
Until now, action has only been taken by the IWF when a child sexual abuse image is reported. Now, for the first time, the IWF has been asked to work alongside Ceop to search for illegal and abusive images and block them. This will mean more images of child sexual abuse will be tracked down and acted against.
— Maria Miller, quoted in The Guardian
In a statement, the IWF welcomed the Government’s suggestions.
We welcome the Government’s request for the IWF to take a more proactive approach in the fight against online child sexual abuse content. The IWF possesses specialised expertise in this area and the opportunity to proactively search for child sexual abuse images on the internet will enable the IWF to use its expertise to the fullest. This new proactive approach is a significant step forward in the fight against online child sexual abuse content.
The other major outcome was the introduction of “splash pages” to warn Internet users when they try to access a blocked page that contains child abuse content. Currently, attempts to access pages on the IWF blocklist are met with a 404 error message.
In addition, BT, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin Media committed to collectively contributing an additional £1m to funding the IWF. In a statement, the “big four” ISPs said:
The ISPs are already the largest funders of the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) making it the most effective Hotline in the world at removing child sexual abuse content, and one of the best funded. The ISPs will work with the IWF to review its activities to see how it can be made even more effective.
The companies will work together with Government, IWF and CEOP to establish how best these funds can be spent to tackle the availability of online child abuse content. ISPs have a zero tolerance to this material. This funding will help to target those individuals that create and distribute the content.
The meeting was dismissed as a “damp squib” by the Labour’s Shadow Culture, Media and Sport Minister, Helen Goodman MP, who was unhappy that ISPs had not agreed to Claire Perry’s scheme to filter all adult content by default - a topic which some politicians have attempted to conflate with the completely separate issue of how best to combat the distribution of child abuse images.
Helen Goodman is a vocal supporter of Claire Perry’s proposal filter all consumer Internet connections through parental control filters at the network level. When participating in Perry’s “Independent Parliamentary Inquiry Into Online Child Protection”, she complained:
But I don’t know how to download parental controls. I can send an email, I can click onto Windows but the minute you talk about downloading software, my brain goes bzzzz.
The government has also been criticised for cutting the CEOP budget by 10% (more than £6m) while simultaneously accusing ISPs of not doing enough to combat the distribution of child abuse images.
Meanwhile, one meeting attendee told the Guardian that the meeting had been “fractious”.
The Home Office opened with some encouraging noises about international efforts but generally speaking the politicians there fundamentally (or wilfully) misunderstand the technical and legal aspects to the subject. Little discussion was given to the measures put forward by industry and any discussion of practical steps was closed down. We’ll meet again in a month.