Letter: Cleaning up the Net

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The Independent Culture
Sir: Alan Docherty (letter, 10 February) suggests that the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) "simply asks for Internet service providers [ISPs] to remove material" without any accountability to the public. In fact there are a range of checks and balances which ensure that the IWF only acts on material which would be likely to be found illegal in a UK court.

The material in question is almost exclusively pictures of children being sexually abused or raped on screen. Unlike the vagaries of the Obscene Publications Act, there is not much room for doubt that possession and publication of such pictures is an offence under UK child protection legislation.

The UK ISPs, which have consistently upheld rights to free speech on the Net, will only remove material that they agree is potentially illegal. (Like many other organisations, including newspapers, they do have to make some judgement of material that has not been to court.)

The police, too, would quickly tell us if the reports that we pass to them refer to material that would not be actionable in the UK. Indeed, there are no doubt cases which have been successfully prosecuted which originated with information forwarded by the IWF.

Finally, it is ironic that Mr Docherty's accusation of lack of accountability appeared the day after the DTI and Home Office published the results of an extensive review of the performance of the IWF. This thorough investigation into our efficiency and effectiveness was conducted by independent management (KPMG)and legal consultants (Denton Hall). Readers can see it at www.dti.gov.uk/iwfreview - another example of the Internet encouraging open government.


Chief Executive

Internet Watch Foundation

Oakington, Cambridgeshire