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Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Maria Miller announces a new proactive approach to seek out child sexual abuse content

The Culture Secretary Maria Miller has announced that the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) will be asked for the first time to actively seek out illegal images of child abuse on the internet, working closely with the Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) Centre. At a summit of major internet service providers (ISPs), search engines, mobile operators and social media companies, an agreement was reached that the IWF should, for the first time, work with CEOP to search for and block child sexual abuse images.

The UK’s leading ISPs – Virgin Media, BSkyB, BT and TalkTalk – today committed to provide a further £1 million to help fund this new proactive approach and to help tackle the creation and distribution of child sexual abuse material online. Additionally, all the companies present signed up to a ‘zero tolerance’ pledge on child sexual abuse imagery.

This will be the first time the IWF has been asked to take on a proactive approach to detect and act against criminal material. The IWF, working alongside CEOP, and the wider internet industry, will ensure the UK leads the way in the global battle against child sexual abuse. New funding will allow more to be done to actively search, block and remove more child sexual abuse images.

This is a fundamental change in the way that child sexual abuse content will be tackled. It is estimated that there are one million unique images of child abuse online yet only 40,000 reports are made to the IWF each year. The IWF will no longer have to wait for illegal material to be reported before they can take action, but will work with CEOP to take the fight to those behind child sexual abuse images.

It was agreed at the summit that:

  • A new proactive role would be taken on by the IWF, working with CEOP – industry funding will increase to reflect this new role with £1 million more provided by the four major ISPs over the next four years to tackle child sexual abuse material online;
  • Any relevant organisation which does not yet operate ‘splash pages’ will introduce them by the end of the month so that when someone tries to access a page blocked by the IWF, they will see a warning message (a ‘splash page’) stating that the page may contain indecent or illegal content;
  • All present would sign up to a ‘zero tolerance’ pledge towards child sexual abuse content on the internet; 
  • The industry will report to the Culture Secretary within a month on how they can work to support the new proactive approach being taken on this issue through the use of their technology and expertise.
  • The summit also reviewed the considerable progress that has been made to protect children from harmful or inappropriate content online, including:
  • The four main ISPs are now offering an active choice on parental controls to all new customers;
  • The main public Wi-Fi providers have pledged to offer family friendly Wi-Fi in public places where children are likely to be;
  • The main ISPs have committed to delivering home network parental controls by the end of the year allowing restrictions to be set - simply and quickly - on all devices in the home; 
  • Internet providers are now regularly telling customers about parental controls through emails and their bills;
  • ISPs will email account holders when any filter settings are changed to ensure the change is approved by an adult.
  • The Culture Secretary will convene a further meeting, once the industry has reported on what more it can do to support this proactive approach, to ensure that real action is taking place.

Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Maria Miller said: "Until now, action has only been taken by the IWF when a child sexual abuse image is reported. Now, for the first time, the IWF has been asked to work alongside CEOP to search for illegal and abusive images and block them. This will mean more images of child sexual abuse will be tracked down and acted against. The abuse of children is absolutely abhorrent – and that child is further violated every single time an image is circulated and viewed. The IWF and CEOP already do important and valuable work. This agreement will mean these organisations will no longer be limited to reacting to reports received. They will now have the remit and the resources to take the fight to the criminals perpetrating these vile acts.”

Labour's Shadow Media Minister, Helen Goodman, who was commenting on today's summit on internet safety, said: "After three years this Tory-led Government has talked a lot but failed to take action to keep children safe online. The problems of people viewing child abuse online and children seeing inappropriate material are growing, but the Government have not been clear on what they are seeking from the industry. If this Government was serious about taking action they should have supported Labour's vote last week to back legislation to require ISPs to put filters on as the default, to introduce an effective age verification system and to put up splash warnings before people enter sites."