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UK telcos chuck another £1m at online child abuse watchdog

Web enforcers IWF gain power to seek and destroy illegal content

Britain's largest ISPs have agreed to contribute a further £1m to the Internet Watch Foundation, following a meeting with Culture Secretary Maria Miller about child sex abuse images and videos found online.

BT, BSkyB, Virgin Media and TalkTalk will collectively stump up the extra cash over the next four years. Each telco thus has increased its annual donation to the IWF to £62,500, from previously dropping sums of over £20,000 per year into the organisation's charity bucket.

In a joint statement the companies said:

This additional funding will supplement the existing zero tolerance approach to child abuse material online, adding to the existing contributions that each company makes both in relation to the ongoing battle against illegal material online, and investment in technology and awareness raising to help parents protect children in the online world.

The ISPs have agreed to work with the IWF to review its activities and see if its work of blocking images of child sex abuse can be even more effective.

BT et al added that they would continue to work closely with the government's Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP), whose budget is down 10 per cent.

Meanwhile, the Internet Service Providers' Association, which represents the UK's big four ISPs and many smaller ones, reiterated that the industry was doing all it could to battle illegal material hosted in Britain. It noted:

ISPA helped found the Internet Watch Foundation to tackle images of child abuse and criminally obscene adult content, and works with law enforcement and industry to block and remove child abuse content.

Images hosted in the UK can be removed in under an hour from being first reported, and content hosted abroad can be blocked in less than ninety minutes. Industry will continue to work with the IWF, law enforcement and others in this important area.

While it is illegal for anyone to actively seek child pornography, the IWF today told Channel 4 News that it now has the power to actively search for illegal content, enabling it to report offending sites to police and ISPs for further action.

ISPA said that, for content which is not illegal, the industry was making "filtering tools more widely available to their customers, putting them in control of what occurs on their connection."

In May, BT and Virgin Media publicly stated for the first time that they would bring in network-level filters to allow subscribers to block unfavourable content such as porn. BSkyB announced earlier this year that it would offer such a system, while TalkTalk has been peddling its Homesafe product to its customers since 2011.

It has been wrongly reported elsewhere that such filtering - at this stage - would force broadband customers to have to declare that they wish to opt out of viewing smut and other supposedly controversial web content.

At present, the ISPs are insisting on sticking to an "Active Choice" self-regulatory code that falls short of government intervention.

Miller, meanwhile, claimed to the BBC at lunchtime today that the IWF would move from being "reactive" to "proactive". The Cabinet minister said the change would mean "it can actively seek out the images that people find abhorrent."

She dismissed assertions that the government - having slashed CEOP's budget by 10 per cent - was failing in the safeguarding of children. ®

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