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UK ISPs clean up their act

UK ISPs now host less than 1 percent of potentially illegal child-abuse material, according to latest research. But the perpetrators are simply choosing offshore hosts where legislation is more lenient

The UK's days as a haven of child pornography are over, as those producing the content increasingly choose Internet service providers in the US and Russia where legislation is weaker.

In its annual report, published this week, the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) said that in 1997, when the organisation launched, UK ISPs hosted 18 percent of child abuse images available on the Internet. Latest research shows this figure has dropped to less than 1 percent, said the IWF.

But the material is still widely available, with 55 percent of child-abuse content now hosted in the US. The IWF noted that in the US there is no effective notice and take down system “and very few US ISPs have registered with the US equivalent of the IWF to deal with the problem of potentially illegal child abuse content.”

In addition, said the IWF, 23 percent of child-abuse content is traced to Russia, “where we believe the laws are incompatible with UK legislation, when defining potentially illegal child abuse content.”

The IWF said there were four reasons for this decline in the UK. “Tough laws that prohibit any form of possession or distribution of child abuse images with strong sanctions if individuals transgress” have made their mark, said the IWF, while a “sophisticated system to transfer intelligence and information from the IWF to the Police” for them to investigate has also born fruit. A “very receptive and amenable ISP community” in the UK who fund the IWF and take down potentially illegal content immediately they are advised of the problem has helped, as has what the IWF calls “an astute public” who complain loudly when they are exposed to potentially illegal, harmful and u[nwanted content.

The IWF Internet hotline processed approximately 20,000 reports in 2003, a 9 percent increase on the previous year. That equates to 400 reports of potentially illegal content every week or 80 reports every day.