Internet providers face child porn crackdown

Firms may be ordered to block abuse sites – but campaigners say move will be counterproductive

Internet service providers that fail to curb child pornography on the web would be criminalised in a crackdown to be introduced in the Queen's Speech this autumn.

The Home Office is drawing up plans for what, in effect, would be the first form of state intervention in Britain in relation to the internet.

British ISPs would face heavy fines for failing to block sites containing images of child sexual abuse, according to the contents of a leaked Home Office document seen by The Independent on Sunday.

The move would be welcomed by children's campaigners, but it has triggered concern in Whitehall that it is a "headline-grabbing gesture" that would penalise the wrong target while potentially weakening existing regulation of child pornography.

Figures show that 98.5 per cent of ISPs already take down or block illegal sites through the Internet Watch Foundation, a self-regulation body created in 1996 that monitors content and reports obscene images to police.

Opponents of the move say the IWF is "working well" and claim a new crackdown would force ISPs to deal with Scotland Yard, which has less experience of blocking websites, and in the process allow more illegal images to slip through the net.

Insiders also point out that the majority of hardcore pornographers swap obscene and illegal material between themselves through peer-to-peer file-sharing, which is more difficult to police. They say the new law would make little difference to that.

The NSPCC warned earlier this year that obscene material was being transmitted using file-sharing software.

The leaked Home Office letter says a clause in the Police, Crime and Private Security Bill in the Queen's Speech would "compel domestic ISPs to implement the blocking of illegal images of child sexual abuse".

The new laws would hand "police and local authorities powers they need to stand shoulder to shoulder with communities in tackling crime", the letter says. The Government has a "clear commitment" to prevent abuse on the internet, it adds.

There will be a four-week consultation with ISPs on the proposals, but insiders said the firms had not been informed about the proposed crackdown.

A Whitehall source said: "This is a gesture which will undermine the real work that is going on to tackle child porn abuse. The Internet Watch Foundation is already working to take down sites and people are getting arrested.

"Under the new law, ISPs will have to deal instead with Scotland Yard, who have less experience in this area, and the IWF will be undermined."

The IWF uses police guidelines to determine what constitutes illegal or obscene images. When illegal material is found, the IWF contacts the ISP hosting it and the content is taken down or blocked.

Material hosted in the UK is reported to the police, while content hosted abroad is blocked, making it near-impossible to track down through search engines.

Other countries use goverment controls to block illegal content on the internet. In Germany, the police directly monitor websites.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Joe Cocker performing on the Stravinski hall stage during the Montreux Jazz Festival, in Montreux, Switzerland in 2002
musicHe 'turned my song into an anthem', says former Beatle
News
Clarke Carlisle
sport
Sport
footballStoke City vs Chelsea match report
Arts and Entertainment
theatreThe US stars who've taken to UK panto, from Hasselhoff to Hall
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
News
newsIt was due to be auctioned off for charity
News
Coca-Cola has become one of the largest companies in the world to push staff towards switching off their voicemails, in a move intended to streamline operations and boost productivity
peopleCoca-Cola staff urged to switch it off to boost productivity
Environment
Sir David Attenborough
environment... as well as a plant and a spider
Voices
'That's the legal bit done. Now on to the ceremony!'
voicesThe fight for marriage equality isn't over yet, says Siobhan Fenton
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there