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Online child abuse - a decade on and the IWF reports progress

Still issues internationally but not over mobiles...
Written by Tony Hallett, Contributor

Still issues internationally but not over mobiles...

The UK can be proud of its approach to tackling images of child abuse online as well as other criminally obscene and racist material, according to DTI minister Alun Michael, speaking at the launch of the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) 2005 annual report.

In a decade, the number of sites hosted in the UK featuring child abuse images has fallen to 0.4 per cent of the global total from almost one in five in 1997.

There are also positive signs that sites listed on the IWF's Child Abuse Image (CAI) URL database aren't making their way onto increasingly graphic-rich mobile devices, with the UK's main network operators and some handset-makers using the CAI database to filter.

Speaking at parliament yesterday, Michael said: "The internet's universality, its ubiquity... [make it] fertile ground for the creative criminal and the warped mind."

He added: "The IWF has much to be proud of."

Nigel Hawthorn, VP international channels and marketing at Blue Coat Systems, one of the filtering companies that backs the IWF, said: "The UK is ahead of the rest of the world."

He added that for ISPs, the IWF list - which stands separate to legal pornography sites - has proved useful.

And while 3G and phones with larger, better quality displays have meant a legal adult content business can now operate over this medium, the IWF said it knows of no instances of illegal material finding its way onto mobiles.

Hamish MacLeod, from the IWF's mobile broadband group, confirmed all the UK operators are using its list.

However, looking to the rest of the world - and in particular Russia and the US where a lot of illegal sites are hosted - IWF CEO Peter Robbins said a lot more can be done.

He criticised those coming up with systems, albeit intended for other purposes, that allow anonymous surfing of the web but praised payments outfits MasterCard, Switch, Visa and even Apacs for their "work behind the scenes".

He admitted ties with Russian authorities are slight - there is no IWF-style hotline, for example - but said that is not the case with the US where the IWF has partnerships.

Robbins said the "US legal system exacerbates the problem" and it is important authorities there be convinced that 'notice and take down' works as an approach to the kind of material the IWF guards against.

The presentation of this year's annual report also saw the introduction of new IWF chair, Amanda Jordan. She paid tribute to the chair of the past six years, Roger Darlington, who led the IWF to refocus on international issues.

Among the companies supporting the IWF are some outside of the obvious communications service provider, high-tech and payments mix. For example BP is on board. Last year it supported the IWF's 'Wipe it out' campaign which addresses illegal material within the enterprise.

The IWF also said blue chip companies are increasingly interested in its work in line with their corporate social responsibility policies.

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