IWF says ISPs must drop illegal newsgroups

Newsgroups that host illegal content in the UK could be closed down as the country's biggest Internet watchdog gets tough on child porn
Written by Wendy McAuliffe, Contributor

The Internet Watch Foundation on Wednesday announced its decision to take greater responsibility for illegal content on the Internet, and will be telling Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to drop newsgroups that are known to regularly contain images of child pornography.

After much heated discussion and opposition from cyber-liberty advocates, an IWF board meeting resolved that UK ISPs should be called to review their policies on newsgroups, and reduce the amount of groups that are shown to be regularly receiving illegal content.

The decision follows growing concern that the majority of racist and illegal pornographic content on the Internet is concentrated within a small number of newsgroups, which the IWF has been identifying and notifying ISPs about regularly for some time now.

While the IWF has no legal powers to force ISPs to act on its recommendations, it is funded and backed by the two major UK service provider trade associations -- the ISP Association and the London Internet Exchange -- so yesterday's decision is likely to have some impact on content hosted in the UK. The IWF also enjoys the backing of the government and the police.

A meeting of the Home Office's Internet taskforce today will discuss the issue further, and is expected to give the IWF more powers to enforce yesterday's resolution.

"How far we go and how much we force we will have to control what ISPs carry has been at the focus of our discussions," said David Kerr, chairman of IWF. "We are trying to get the balance right between the industry, child protection and free speech issues."

The IWF was prevented from taking a vote on whether ISPs should have their self-regulatory approach towards newsgroups revoked at its board meeting in April. Cyber-liberty advocate Malcolm Hutty, from the Campaign against Censorship of the Internet in Britain, deliberately left the meeting, bringing it below the number of representatives required for a vote to take place. Hutty felt that a more detailed process was needed to properly consider newsgroup policy alongside the IWF's commitment to comply with the Human Rights Act.

"The freedom of speech side is most worried about this development -- it is a step further towards the control of illegal content [on the Internet], and there is always the danger for things to move further," explained Kerr.

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