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Internet watchdog chief quits

The chief executive of the Internet Watch Foundation has resigned at a crucial moment in the organisation's history
Written by Wendy McAuliffe, Contributor

The chief executive of the Internet's regulatory body in the UK has announced that he will not be renewing his five-year contract when it expires in March. The decision comes amid controversy over whether the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) should beef up its powers for dealing with illegal content on the Internet.

David Kerr publicly revealed his resignation at the weekend. "After five challenging and highly rewarding years in the post, I have concluded that it is a time for a change for me and for the organisation," wrote Kerr in his resignation letter. He will now assist the IWF board in recruiting a replacement.

It was initially assumed that Kerr's deputy, Ruth Dixon, would be appointed as the new chief executive. But it has now been announced that Dixon will not be accepting the promotion.

The chief executive is responsible to the chair, the board and the funding council. Kerr's replacement will enter the running amid ongoing talks over the future governance of the IWF. The regulator is currently in the process of revoking its advisory role, by taking greater responsibility for illegal content on the Internet. A code of practice has been proposed to step up IWF powers and force member ISPs to act on its recommendations.

"I was appointed when the emphasis was on the legal approach towards ISPs and the narrow issue of the possession of child pornography," said Kerr. "My replacement will be coming in at the start of a new era -- the shift of emphasis is reflected in the new policy decisions of the board, which is more focused on the protection of children on the Internet."

Kerr thinks it unlikely that that the new IWF remit will be resolved before the end of 2002.

The IWF is a self-regulatory body, set up in the autumn of 1996 to look at the growing problem of child pornography on the Internet. 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 an increase in its powers is likely to have some impact on content hosted in the UK. The IWF also enjoys the backing of the government and the police.

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