back to article Anti-smut boss: 'We won't be net police'

The Internet Watch Foundation has no intention of becoming the UK government's net police, its new boss has declared. Speaking to El Reg in her first interview in her new role at the IWF, Susie Hargreaves also revealed the need for greater openness, independence and transparency at the anti-child sex abuse organisation. The …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Selling itself to the public

    Just had a look at the site and , on the face of it, I'm encouraged by the focus that the IWF have. However, there is inevitably a lot of suspicion that such an organisation can be used to censor inappropriately (ie beyond their public remit).

    In order to allay such suspicions perhaps a bit more openness is in order - eg publish a daily/weekly summary giving a breakdown of the types of sites blocked and the reasons for blocking them.

  2. jake Silver badge

    Clipboard Susie

    Or, more generically (at least in these here parts) "Clipboard Sally".

    Noun; The earnest young(ish), usually blonde, gal who goes out of her way to see to it that all real work stops until all the ticks are checked in her paperwork. Usually has a major chip on her shoulder, hates anybody who is actually capable of accomplishing anything.

    1. peter 45

      and having successfully sucked up to the boss

      Promoted to a title with 'Management' in it. Spends her days creating long ticklists by asking other people what they do. Regularly calls meetings where she asks for updates to her ticksheets and castigating all those who fails to add another tick to her list. Thinks that by calling more meeting, her rate of ticking will increase. To this day still does not have a clue what the Company actually does.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Looking for new funding ?

    I'm sure these would like to help:


  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Too much collateral damage.

    "In none of these categories does the IWF operate blocks: rather, it reports the matter to the local police and lets them take the matter forward."

    This sentence seems to be written as if it is better not to have the material blocked. Yes, much better if you hit something on the list (I would hope accidentally aka scorpions album), having the police knocking at your door instead of a blocked message. Yes, I know you could argue that anyone who hits the list probably deserves a police visit, but wasn't the point of this article that the IWF are not there to police the internet.

    Just waiting for a virus writer to put in their virus that it sends your browser to places on the list just so people get reported to the police for the lulz.

    I just know the IWF as the people who make my connections to file locker sites (rapidshare etc) a lot slower than they used to be or not usable, as these sites always tend to be on their list which means they get diverted via a very slow proxy, even for un-offending files from those sites.

    Of course no one is going to oppose trying to remove child abuse material from the net, but if the way you are doing it is having a detrimental effect on people not even involved uploading or downloading this material, then something is wrong with the way it is being down. In this case you are not a model or how to deal with this issue, but a model or how not to.

    "a genuinely cautious approach to images blocked"

    Is it true that their system only deals with images? So pedo's just need to move movies instead, right, just checking....

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Also I am aware before anybody tries to correct me, that the proxies I mentioned in the second part of my post above, are not run by the IWF. They are ISP solutions to how to implement the list provided by the IWF. The problem is that all ISP's who have implemented the IWF list do so in the same way. They also take no responsibility for the unintended side effects to the innocent by standards, who are affect by this system, even though not trying to access anything on the list. They point all issues to the IWF, even though it is the system they put in place that is causing the issues.

      So when I say that the IWF causes a lot of collateral damage I mean the 'whole system' that is in place. The IWF may wash their hands of the issues saying it is up to ISP's how this it is setup, but there is only one way and they know it.

      I have to also say that the article is some what confusing. As some points it talks about blocking material, at other points it says don't worry, material is not blocked, you will just get a knock at the door from the police if you hit anything on it. Clear as mud...

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I am a stakeholder. Where is my vote?

    Their blacklist of badness isn't opt-in, or even opt-out. It's "voluntary" for the ISP, but the end-user gets no choice. Doesn't even show up as a stakeholder here.

    Informing is one thing. Opting in another. Having to opt-out (something I'd do on principle, after complaining loudly at having to opt-out in the first place) is really not right. Not even being able to opt out means that however you put it, it's policing. By quango. Well.

    Love the assertion that because no policeman in sight, it's not policing. Right. So, because there's no convicts on the board, you can't do anything wrong either?

    You could draw parallels with, oh, spamhaus. They keep a blacklist of badness. There, it's the mail admins that choose to use it or not. There is no government "kindly suggesting" ISPs "voluntarily" use it. There is also a way to check if you're affected and there is a reasonably well-defined way to get off; better your ways and ask them nicely to be let off. And if you don't want to use them, that's fine. Some ISPs give their users fine-grained controls over how to go about reducing spam in their inbox, down to picking and un-picking blacklists. Otherwise you're free to take your email custom somewhere else.

    The IWF is the essence of the unaccountable quango with government fiat endorsement. Is spinning themselves farther into independence then supposed to be a good thing? Perhaps to be better able to resist the slowly mounting pressure to do more censoring than what they set out to do? All we have for that is their promise they won't; they're still not accountable to those whom they deprive of choice. That remains a problem even if for now and forever they will never ever again goof with another false positive.

    Well, at least the girl dresses nice and believes she herself when she thinks the IWF has it "about right". Also, policing done by quango apparently isn't policing, nosiree. Would it be inopportune to bring up the ACPO here?

    This isn't the smartest, nor the fastest, of quangos. Like how she's only now started to kick the idea of a proper complaints and appeals procedure --and only for sites in the UK, how provincial can you get?-- a nice couple years after having publically fallen on their faces. Compared to how long they exist it's even worse. The whole thing does seem a little self-absorbed. Which makes sense; being a moral grauniad does seem to require a certain amount of density, yes.

    Blighty must want it, for it's got it.

  6. moiety

    The IWF disturbs me a little as there doesn't seem to be much in the way of oversight. Who exactly decides what I -an adult with wrinkly, flabby, and grey bits to prove it- am not grown up enough to see? The IWF are demonstrably doing it wrong by blocking cartoons...the definition of victimless crime.

    Blocking kiddieporn sites doesn't seem the right approach either. For a start, you'd have to put a blanket ban on Japan if you were doing it properly. A better approach, I feel, is to mine the sites for information: Find out who's uploading new photographs and nail them to the full extent of the law. You know - prosecute the actual molesters and also have a long hard look at whoever built the site. Then look at the leechers. To me, someone doing 'swapsies' to fill out their -albeit illicit- collection of images is less dangerous than the producers of the images. Don't get me wrong; someone having a collection of CP images is a big, red warning sign and you can also put forward the (flawed) argument that without these collectors' demand there would be no supply. If a collection of images is as far as it goes though, then that strikes me as less serious than the people who produce the images.

    Going after art, cartoons and CGI is just plain silly. Unfortunately it's a silly that can utterly destroy somebody's life. One of the functions of art is to shock, provoke and explore the darker side of the human psyche.

    1. honkhonk34

      I can only reinforce your point with a single point of my own:

      Web sites can be created and hosted in very small amounts of time, they can be mirrored around the world and they are prolific beyond the ability of a web-filter system to deal with adequately, especially one maintained by a third party and "voluntarily" followed by ISPs.

      Shutting down the sites is like fighting the symptoms of disease while letting the disease itself run rampant. What I want to see is investigations where identities or information are uncovered and passed on to the police, so that the people producing child pornography can be caught and hauled to jail. Their actions are the crime we need to solve here, getting caught up in online this-and-that will not stop these people abusing children, only finding these people will stop them abusing children.

      We need to forget the block lists, we need to invest our time and our money in ensuring that these people are caught and brought to justice.

      1. JimC Silver badge


        > Shutting down the sites is like fighting the symptoms of disease while letting the disease

        > itself run rampant. What I want to see is investigations where identities or information are

        > uncovered and passed on to the police,

        I tend to agree. But to do so really means to abolish all anonymity on the net and lose many of the freedoms that many people value... For just the reasons you list about the difficulties of shutting down sites. Is the cure worse than the disease? Personally I'm not sure, but I do suspect that much of the freedom on the net we have today, especially that of anonymity, is doomed simply because it is abused so much. A net free of anonymity might also be a net free of spammers, phishers, yes, and maybe even child porn.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          A couple of points to consider.

          People have done horrible things and then turned to free speech and right not to incriminate oneself and such and gotten away with it. People have done horrible things and gotten off on a technicality or because the AG/CPS/... fscked up the paperwork. Why prevention of getting away with it for a bad few suddenly should cost everybody's fundamental freedoms* just because it somehow involves the internet, the 'web, cyberspaaace, seems to me a little hard to argue. By all means, try and convince me. Haven't seen a politician successfully do it so far, though plenty of them assume there's a difference somehow.

          Personally I think the only thing worthwhile to pursue in child pornography** is the sexually abusing of children. That happens, surprise surprise, in the real world. Often this involves close family friends, relatives, even the children's own parents.

          No reason to blame "teh intarwebs" as the hideout of the bad grownups. That the discussion centers on this proxy means we're not willing to face the bugbear and in doing so risk sacrificing valuable things without return for anyone, least of all the children.

          The main thing I would point out here is that if we'd pick the abuse, instead of the pictures, to go after, we'd squarely have to find the perps in the real world, even if there's clues to be found on the 'net. It also would simplify questions of jurisdiction quite a lot. Apparently that sort of focus is not in the interest of groups like the IWF.

          I'm not too worried about the abuse of anonymity, by the by. Looking back at how I grew up on electronic message exchange systems (predating internet) I mouthed off quite a lot in very poor language and under what amounts to my real name. Here, I've posted almost two days worth of commentarding, all anonymously, and it's generally been quite civil. Being anonymous at home mouthing off to all the world is seductive but also something most of us get over at some point.

          Give it a few generations and the situation will change. Maybe someday even most parents will understand that you don't let children participate in places where you need quite thick skin to avoid getting hurt, and instead they'll take their own responsibility in supervising their offspring on the 'net instead of demanding someone else makes the bad bullies go away. The main thing is that we have barely a generation worth of people that grew up with all this power to vent our spleen, get in flame wars, and so on, and so forth. The 'net is full of dark places. No need to try and turn all of it into teletubbieland.

          Also note that concluding to have to abolish all anonymity is of course a little silly. Take again the real world. How realistic would it be to demand that everyone must always leave their calling wherever they've been, because otherwise catching, say, burglars or muggers or rapists would be Just Too Hard for the police?***

          Of course we could build computer systems that track your every move, always. And of course power mad politicians would absolutely love exactly that. Until perhaps they realise what they've done, but then it might be too late or just horribly painful to rid us of the monster of total control again.

          But now that we can, we have to ask ourselves, do we really want to do that? Or should we build systems that instead preserve anonymity? Even at the cost of making it less easy for police inspectors to be lazy? Looking at how we hobble the police in the real world just to make sure they don't get too nosy, that ought to be a no-brainer. Then why isn't it?

          * Provided we did assign everybody those. It's a cultural thing, no matter what the UN professes. Not that I don't like those things, mind. Just that the "universality" is more often claimed than that it actually has substance. Do note that I am only pointing out this is a whole 'nother can'o'worms, nothing else. But I digress.

          ** Implicitly restricting the discussion to involvement of pre-pubescent, real, children because otherwise age of consent, which isn't universal by a long shot. Portugal has it at 14, I believe. Everybody else are just prudes. Yeah, that's it. And 'real' children because otherwise the extreme pr0n law kicks in. Anyhow, yet another can'o'worms. Best not go there either.

          *** Effectively this already happens in some places, like how over in the Netherlands a certain controversial political party demands every visitor's state identification number (BSN, like SSN but actually unique and already subject to official feature creep; still this wasn't what it was ment for and thus, strictly speaking, shouldn't be allowed) and this was defended with the claim that otherwise the national police security service wouldn't be able to check on them. Yes, official claim. No wonder pc plod can't catch a thief.

          1. honkhonk34

            I would like to clarify that I was trying to say that censorship and control of the internet isn't the answer; it's got to be about tracking down the people doing these things in real life.

            Is there such a thing as an internet crime? is there any crime that cannot be committed in real life that the internet makes possible? About the only one I can think of is hacking, but only on the basis that physical access to a machine may be considered too improbable to be considered a real life root example.

            1. moiety

              I don't think targeting CP sites need have any affect on anonymity for the rest of us. You know where the site is; just mine it for information. The government wants a cyber-warfare squad and this would be excellent on-the-job training for them. There need not be any effect whatsoever on the majority who aren't peddling paedo pics.

              Anonymous could probably do it; so there's no excuse for an outfit like the government -who have access to a lot more data- not to. Compromise the target site; digitally fingerprint the site's visitors' browsers; fish out any other identifying information (image data, maybe semantic analysis, server logs etc) and build up your dossiers and evidence. The government is in a unique position in that once they have identified someone they can go directly to the identified kiddie-fiddler's ISP with a warrant (not to mention credit-card company; phone company etc) and collect enough information to make up a case. Then nail the fuckers.

              Sure it's a little more expensive; but it would actually get something done...rather than the "la la la, I'm not listening" current method of blocking the sites. The *only* saving grace of the IWF's current method is that the unwitting public are very slightly less likely to get a compromising image in their browser cache by accident. For the tax money it's costing, I'd have to give the IWF an effectiveness rating of F (ucking useless).

              IWF, if you're listening, us internet denizens do not like being censored. The vast majority, however, are right behind the idea of prosecuting paedos. It is perfectly possible to nail the guilty without stamping all over the rights of the innocent majority. You're doing it wrong. And that is a shame, because you're largely on your own with this as it's just too risky for the public to offer you any assistance...back in the day we used to hunt paedo sites occasionally; turning lots of information into the police/authorities. Nowadays, of course, the risk of having this sort of stuff in your browser cache is just too great, so the authorities don't get as much/any assistance from the public.

              Oh yeah, and stop the silly cartoon shit. It's only child abuse if there's an actual child involved.

    2. Brangdon


      They block images that are illegal. The Coroners and Justice Act 2009 makes pornographic cartoons of children illegal, even if they aren't realistic. It's not the IWF that's "demonstrably wrong", it's the government that made it illegal. It'd be a mistake for the IWF to pick and choose which illegal pornography to block.

      As for investigating the websites and producers: that needs to be done by the police, so as to preserve a chain of evidence that can be used to prosecute. The IWF should only pass the details onto the police to enable that to happen (which they do).

      1. Just Thinking

        We have laws against cartoons. And yet so little has really been done to prosecute paedophile rapist priests, and those in the church who covered up for them.

  7. kain preacher Silver badge

    I would like to know

    When did we become too stupid to tie our own shoes with out govt help? Who made that decision for us ? Seriously if the govt wants treat me like a child, then take care of me like I'm child. Children don't work, don't pay bills. Now if you want me to act like an adult you need to treat me like one .

  8. Old Handle
    Thumb Up


    You want transparency? Great. Here's what you can do:

    1. Notify site operators when (or preferably before) you blacklist an image on their site.

    2. Insist that ISPs implement your blacklist such that when a user hits a blocked URL they will be informed of the reason for the block.

    3. Publish the entire blacklist.

    There's simply no excuse for not doing #1. Implementing #2 would no doubt add a small amount of expense, but censors in other countries seem to manage just fine, and it would boost your legitimacy dramatically.

    Although #3 is absolutely essential for true transparency, I realize that it will never happen. So how does this sound for compromise? Publish a list of every blocked image, without the URL, but with a description and ID number. And then display the same information or at least the ID number to the user as part of #2. I imagine the list would look something like this:

    ID: 23478, DATE: 2008-12-05, AGE(S): 10, LEVEL: 1, DESC: Nude girl in erotic pose with pubic area obscured by broken glass effect.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Look at the accounts

    15 employees from memory (+ some volunteers ?).

    Chief £100,001-200,000

    Deputy £60,001-70,000

    compare with Prime Minister of UK £142,500

    Nice work if you can get it.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    IWF = Committe for Public Safety

    1. DieFleidermaus

      How is that relavent to this discussion?


      1. kain preacher Silver badge

        How ? It's simple you have a group of people that are treating me like child by telling me what I can see on the net .

    2. Old Handle

      IWF Responds

      Shortly after I posted this, I thought I might as well send this to the IWF too, and was pleasantly surprised to get personal response. The gist was as follows:

      1. If the image is hosted in the UK, they notify the police and the host (but not apparently the website owner). For international sites, they notify the partner hotline in that country, if any, (so that'd be NCMEC in the US guess) and it's up to that organization to deal with it further.

      2. They don't require this, but they do encourage it as a "best practice". So that was good to hear at least.

      3. Individual descriptions are "not possible". But some of that information is summarized in their annual report (not in a particularly useful way, I thought).

      That leaves much to be desired in my opinion, but all in all, it's a little better than I expected actually.

  11. Microbe

    Love the description of IWF as "the anti-child sex abuse organisation".

  12. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

    IWF == Mary Whitehouse on Steroids

    I certainly don't want this bunch of do-gooders anywhere near the controled of the UK Internet. IF they are even the BBC will get censored.

    You can't have 'Life of Brian' references now can you?

    Fail? Nowhere near enough of one for me.

  13. Tim Brown 1
    Black Helicopters

    Some thoughts

    Do they employ anyone to monitor the mental health of people asked to view disturbing images day in and day out?

    What sort of person is drawn to work for this type of organisation?

    How vigorous are the background checks on the people they employ?

  14. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    Going after art....

    Well the organisation with the biggest collection of painting of naked cherubs does have a bit of a problem with this sort of thing

  15. MonkeyBot

    "anti-child sex abuse organisation"

    Depending on where you put the emphasis in that phrase, the IWF could become a very different beast.

  16. Stretch

    thin end of the wedge. mission creep has already begun. soon this Watch will be watching you.

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