back to article The IWF: Charity disparity?

The Internet Watch Foundation is under fire again, this time on the grounds that it shouldn't be classed as a charity. The challenge comes from a Yorkshire-based software developer, who spoke with The Register on condition that we respect his confidentiality. "I have nothing against what the IWF do in respect of child porn, …


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Anonymous Coward

What About the RSPCA?

There are other groups that are charities, but are also enforcement bodies, e.g. the RSPCA for animal welfare. It seems to me they often started off with the intended aim of doing good, but a they accumulate more responsibilities, other, more political agendas creep in. I think the same is true of the IWF.

Anonymous Coward

The guy has a point

The IWF is a provider of fencing. Invisible electronic fencing, but it's still just fencing.

They don't deserve charitable status any more than manufacturers of fencing for children's playgrounds.

That said, they do perform a worthwhile job and it would be politically "inconvenient" if they were to be stripped of their status. The review will therefore go absolutely nowhere.


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worth challenging...

... but very unlikely to succeed.

Any organization which performs acts for the public benefit can register as a charity, provided it performs activities for "public benefit", doesn't primarily engage in commercial operations and has a turnover in excess of £5000 pa. The stated aims meet both the 'identifiable benefit' and 'to a section of the public' tests for "public benefit".

There is however a supplementary test: they can't be a charity if those setting it up are "related or connected to" the beneficiaries. Its strongly arguable given their stated aims that a prime beneficiary is the ISP community - who also fund the organization.

Finally 'the promotion of a particular point of view' is disalllowed for charitability. It can be argued, since the IWF has no legal mandate, that it is acting as a moral guardian to promote a particular view of what should be seen on the net. Such activity isn't charitable according to the above point. While I've no doubt the IWF would argue they only ever ban illegal material, they have also already said they act on unproven allegations and aren't a court of law, so their own words seem to prove their "POV dissemination" status.

But all this doesn't matter. The CC will be just as scared as MPs do anything against "the morality police" for fear of red-top branding as pro-fiddler libertarians. Sigh.

Black Helicopters

If the RSPCA was backed by pet-shops

The RSPCA was setup and likely continues with politically-motivated people that want to stop activities which they consider "bad". The RSPCA campaigns, lobby public and politician, for money, new laws, and better enforcement, but for all that the RSPCA is no more "powerful" than any other group and really smart individual.

The IWF is an industry body, and their only goal is stopping exposure of certain content that can lead to the usual protect-the-kiddies/burn-the-fiddlers lynching if enough if the "wrong" people find the content. The IWF is a cheaper alternative to government mandated certification and oversight of all internet content, and the only people it helps are the ISPs.

Oh.... do expect digital camera manufactures coming up with the same sort of body (the DCWF) to block access to your pictures that feature humans under a certain sizes and showing too much skin.

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The action of this person should be commended.

(Written by Reg staff)

Re: How about a Downing Street petition?

Why go to all that hassle when a good bout of Edmonds-style 'cosmic ordering' is just as likely to succeed?

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"...But all this doesn't matter. The CC will be just as scared as MPs do anything against "the morality police" for fear of red-top branding as pro-fiddler libertarians..."

Nobody can stop the Paedogeddon. NOBODY!

The Charity Commission will do f*ck all about this, safe in the knowledge that nobody expects it to. We are, after all, talking about the Paedogeddon here, folks - NONE of the normal rules apply - did you forget that?

And while we're all busy debating the IWF's status or not as a 'charidee', it is worth mentioning that as far the UK's police forces are concerned they are both a 'partnering agency' as well as a handy employer of ex-coppers - and beneficiaries of both public and private funding.

I just wonder what the hell they find to do all day? By their own reporting, less than 1% of all online CP is hosted in or originates from the UK, probably even less now as that report's already a year out of date...

Dead Vulture

"Rather circular"? Slightly pregnant?

>"The Charity Commission [ ... ] directed us to a rather circular explanation: "Charitable purposes" are those that fall within the descriptions of purposes capable of being charitable set out in the Charities Act 2006 and that are for the public benefit."

That's not in the slightest bit circular, and calling it so is just a gratuitous pejorative.

The whole concept of "rather" circular is as nonsensical as "slightly pregnant", or "a bit married". Either an explanation refers to itself, and is circular, or it explains the terms by reference to external definitions, which makes it not the slightest bit circular at all. This particular explanation refers to clearly defined terms in an external source - the legislation - and is not in any way circular whatsoever.

If you want to criticise the IWF, do so for something real; fabricating spurious claims like these in order to take cheap shots at your target is silly and tabloid-like behaviour.

Jobs Horns


If you report anything to the IWF you WILL be subject to investigation by the Police. Of that be 100% certain.


RSPCA parallels

I'm afraid that the posters drawing our attention to this may be more accurate than many people may realise. The RSPCA, though a charity, dresses like the police, behaves like the police and claims to itself many police-like powers. Indeed, though IANAL, I believe that Nu-Lab have given its "inspectors" some legal standing.

And like the police, they are not above "funny" behaviour. Many years ago there was a documentary about dog fighting. Part of the "evidence" gathered and confiscated by the RSPCA pending legal action were reproduction prints of victorian paintings of bulldogs.

And this is the point. And this is why we should all be scared. Having an antique picture of a dog is NOT evidence of a crime. But because THEY say it is, it is.

As it is in matters children and dogs so it will be with matters Internet. And so it will be with other self-appointed special interest watchdogs (excuse the pun) yet to make their presence known. Example: It is well known that people ACCUSED of crimes against animals are guilty of child abuse, hence RSPCA may well contact NSPCC - not my words, read this and be scared

I do not defend either animal or child abuse.

Anonymous Coward

The core of the problem

They make choices to censor or not, this is not a UK consensus decision, it is simply one persons opinion.

They claim to censor images but actually censor whole *sites*.

There is no feedback mechanism or control mechanism to limit their censorship, their censorship is mostly done in secret.

They do not absolve liability from the viewer, so if they fail to do their job the viewer would still go to jail.

They are not on a legal or even quasi legal basis.

They have a charitable status, but that's for tax purposes, really the man wants to complain because THEY CENSORED WIKIPEDIA OVER AN ALBUM COVER THAT WOULD NOT BE OUT OF PLACE IN A HEALTH AND EFFICIENCY. But he can't do that, because they have no legal basis, so instead he complains about them doing that from a tax free position.

The fix if for ISPs to stop using IWF, or for their use of IWF block lists to be promoted so that users who want reliable Wikipedia access don't use those ISPs.


RE: Rather Circular

Anonymous Coward or just another IWF fan boy, or even worse, you work for the Government! Either way, what a waste of good bandwidth to have a go at El Reg about a valuable and correct story.


@Rather circular AC

Whoa there boy - the quote in question is from hte Charity Commission's website, not the IWF's and the criticism is of the CC, not the IWF. It is however as you say, incorrect to suggest its circular since the Charities Act has a long list of things which count as charitable, see here

Noticeably "acting as morality police" isn't listed. Nor in fact is anything to do with child protection. Looking down the list, I would in fact struggle to insert what they do into any category, unless you consider it to be advancement of health or education.

And it doesn't fall into section 4 as its not a recreational activity (boggle boggle).


One difference betw. RSPCA and IWF

At one time the theory of English lawmaking was that the law merely made explicit what everyone already knew and agreed was illegal. It was the formal expression of the consensus.

By that standard, one can understand the RSPCA's quasi-police powers: pretty much everyone agrees (these days!) that cruelty to animals is A Bad Thing And Contrary to Law.

The IWF, in contrast, represents a very narrow view from which a good many people dissent. For all the yammer about protecting the children from porn, I have yet to see any study that persuasively makes the case that porn actually harms kids.

Two reasons for my assertion: first, the human mind is a good deal more resilient than the Nanny State and its minions would have us believe. While a few weak-minded souls may become traumatized from a graphic depiction of Tab A being inserted into Slot B, most will not.

I imagine some will become sexually excited (but what's wrong with that?) and others will yawn "Oh, that's how it works, ho hum", but very few, if any, will be rendered dysfunctional or become hopeless lust-a-holics.

Second, it may actually be good for kids to see porn, because it helps dispel the aura of shame and "dirtiness" that the blue-stockings like to surround sex with. I notice from time to time news reports of young people coming out as gay at surprisingly early ages; one cannot help but wonder if this is because the intertubes clued them into to the fact they are not alone in the world in preferring boy-boy or girl-girl romance. Porn may very well be a part of that.

Really, the squawking about porn harming children is much like the silly health and safety rules of the UK right now: it's all about vague possibilities, mights, and maybes, not about behaviors which actually, provably have caused harm.

Is there anything else I can say to overturn the shibboleths of the NuPuritans and their Stasi-oid bolshevist friends?

PS: When the NuDispensation takes power in Britain, with Sarah Bee as Ministrix of Deportment, all health and safety rules will require re-justification via a rigorous cost-benefit analysis. Rules against behaviors that have caused few injuries or deaths will be rejected toot sweet. Even harmful activities will be given a green light if they are culturally valuable.

Take that, vile nanny state!


Market pressure?

Any chance of getting an ISP that promises not to use the IWF?

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Why the IWF isn't like the RSPCA

There is only one IWF, and it is privileged by not being pestered by the police over potentially illegal material which they might download, or "make".

If you don't like the RSPCA, there are hundreds of other charities acting to protect animals. You can even take on the care of an abandoned animal yourself.

I'm wary of some aspects of the RSPCA, just as with the BBFC and IWF. At least there are ways I can gain influenve with the RSPCA--it's not so much about being a charity.

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Paris Hilton

re: One difference betw. RSPCA and IWF

> The IWF, in contrast, represents a very narrow view from which a good many people dissent. For all the yammer about protecting the children from porn, I have yet to see any study that persuasively makes the case that porn actually harms kids.

I think it is the *production* of child porn which is mostly at issue. Banning its consumption is mostly a way to stifle demand and thus limit production.

Its a faux argument to suggest that porn is banned due to the nudity involved. SexEd usually covers the mechanics of what happens reasonably accurately. There are many reasons to oppose the (ahem) spread of porn but here are a few:

It commercialises sex. Sex becomes something you buy and for which you have no obligations beyond providing cash. There's no commitment to another person, no bond formed between two people, its just a commercial transaction.

Porn also sets unrealistic standards for sex. This can feed feelings of inadequacy or the rejection of others if they don't match-up to expectations. In the absence of real information on what sex is really like, porn not only doesn't help, its actually a misleading.

Porn consumption is generally a solo occupation. If anything it isolates people who really need to get out more. Rather like facebook. ;)

People buy what is advertised and sold to them. If you don't believe this, talk to the cola, chewing-gum and fastfood marketers. It doesn't just satisfy demand, it actually creates it.

I could go on all night (of course)...

How far legislation goes before you admit it doesn't help is a separate issue. While those who think morality can be legislated might be an easy target, its more to do with a government who likes to be able to "tick the box" to say that they have dealt with this issue. That is much more dangerous than any individual piece of legislation.

Anonymous Coward

It is not a charity

and whilst they should at least be only a not for profit, they are abusing their position to act as a censor.

Adding child to the charge is just emotive, it should just be labelled abuse of a person, assault of person, rape of a person.

On a side note, if someone is pregnant and they have sex, is that akin to child rape?


My understanding

If the IWF are there to try and stop and remove illegal content from the internet then charitable status or not that is their role. In fact this is what they are there to try and do,

But I have a concern that this appears to be the easier end of a very difficult situation for the law enforcement people and government.

If you block access through ISP's to illegal content (Illegal as deemed illegal by the IWF not you or I or the ISP's, as they, you or I are not legally allowed to view what they say is illegal or we commit a criminal offence, so we only have their word it’s illegal) then presumably that will stop bad people from uploading or trying to upload it and make it accessible.

I think that would be a very simplistic and silly approach to take as one size definitely does not fit all. And it begs the question of what are we doing to track and stop these people from doing it in the first place and when caught then prosecuting them and jailing their sorry little asses in the process.

I wouldn't mind but reading this suggests the implementation of the technology doesn’t work that well anyway so how effective is it? Okay it blocks access for a while depending on the person trying to view it and their technical capabilities, but it's easy to get round according to that research paper unless I'm reading it wrong.

I'd like to know what the government is doing to stop these people from uploading in the first place, how many are caught and taken through the courts and given lengthy sentences. Does this not drive the very people you wish to catch further underground making it harder for the Police to find them?

It’s an emotive subject and one which I think the government should be tackling through law enforcement and putting the real funding where it is most effective.

The images and content cam always be moved, re-uploaded and accessible again in minutes via the IWF way of working, although I guess it stops it for a while.

If we were catching those at the heart of it from the start, would they still be out there uploading it in the first place? No and that’s why I’d like to see more focus on catching these people rather than trying to block it after it’s been made available.

As a responsible parent with children myself, I think I can filter dubious content and illegal images myself through Net Nanny or similar but it’s harder for me to catch the little bastards uploading it in the first place and probably against the law if I did. I thought my tax was going towards paying for the police and government law enforcement agencies to do that.


Simple test

A simple test of whether something is a "charity" is whether I can avail myself of their services or not based on *my* decision. In other words, assuming I was destitute, can I decide not to go to a soup kitchen or will the soup kitchen send a goon squad to force me to come in and have some soup?

With IWF the UK citizenry has no choice. The ISPs have decided for their customers (without consultation) whether or not the IWF filters their content and, if so, there is no way to tell them to leave you alone.

So no, as far as I am concerned the IWF is *not* a charity, it's a police group (as in, it "polices" a segment of your life). Possibly a vigilante group as it technically has no lawful grounds (so I understand) to impose their restrictions on you, only an "understanding" with your ISP.

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