Resignation rush threatens Internet watchdog

A leaked document reveals that the former chair of the Internet Watch Foundation and three other board members have quit
Written by Wendy McAuliffe, Contributor

The former chair of the British Internet watchdog has resigned from the Board and from the Funding Council, a matter of days after the chief executive announced that he will not renew his five-year contract.

A document leaked to ZDNet UK News reveals that Clive Feather notified the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) of his decision to quit the board and the Funding Council by email on 20 December. After helping to set up the organisation in 1996, Feather's six-year tenure will end on 31 January.

As well as the chair and chief executive, two members of the non-funding seats on the main board have also stepped down. The exodus of IWF board members has raised speculation over the future remit of the organisation. Feather and David Kerr, chief executive, leave amid ongoing over talks over the future governance of the IWF. The self-regulatory body was originally set up in the autumn of 1996 to look at the growing problem of child pornography on the Internet. But recent discussions have considered whether its advisory role should be beefed up with tougher powers that deal with Internet Service Providers (ISPs) hosting all types of illegal content.

Within his resignation letter, Feather states: "As the Internet has evolved and become part of the social fabric of the UK, many people believe that the role of the IWF needs to change. Whether or not you agree with this, it is a debate that needs to be held in a calm and rational manner."

A board meeting in October looked into whether the IWF should take greater responsibility for illegal content on the Internet, by considering stronger action to address paedophile activity in Usenet newsgroups. Proposed measures include a code of practice that would place increased pressure on member ISPs to act on IWF recommendations.

But Feather's letter implies that not enough attention is being paid to the implications of such a change in remit. "In the recent past I have come to feel that this attention to detail is being interpreted by others in a way that is hindering the aims and the evolution of the IWF. I do not think that it is in anyone's best interest for this to continue."

The IWF is now in the process of running an election to find a replacement for Feather from the Funding Council. It is also seeking a new chief executive to replace Kerr when he leaves in March.

Feather will continue to represent the British telco Thus on the Internet Crime Forum -- a group set up by the Association of Chief Police Officers to enhance an effective working relationship between industry and law enforcement to tackle crime on the Internet.

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