back to article IWF took down over 31,000 child sexual abuse URLs in 2014

Last year saw a 136 per cent increase in identified and subsequently removed child abuse imagery, according to a just-released report from the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF). In its Annual Report for 2014, the body revealed that its new ability to actively seek out criminal content has been effective in allowing it to …

  1. Alister Silver badge

    The IWF spokesperson told The Register: "The most effective way to disrupt the availability of child sexual abuse material is removal at source. We consider the filtering of known child sexual abuse imagery based on our URL list as an important, yet temporary, measure while awaiting removal at source."

    Glad to hear this. Too many people in positions of power seem to think that simply blocking URLs will make the problem go away.

    1. Crazy Operations Guy

      This really isn't making the problem go away either. Taking the website down isn't going to prevent anyone from abusing children or do anything for the children currently being abused. This is just the digital equivalent of shoving your head in the sand hoping the problem goes away if you can't see it.

      This is about as effective as combating drug abuse by arresting just the users and dealers: The demand is still there and someone is still going to produce the material. But unlike drug abuse, the human damage is from the production rather than the user / distribution parts, making it even more important to focus on the source.

      An easy solution might be for a police organization (Possibly InterPol or someone similar) to set up a website to allow pedophiles to view and upload images/videos. Uploaded material would be compared against a database of missing children and possibly a photo bank of school children. Old material that someone has already been arrested for would be allowed through, new material would be blocked and a full investigation would be put into motion so that the organization running the website could work with local police to hunt down the piece of garbage. This would allow the police to keep tabs on who is viewing this stuff and try and stop it proactively before abuse starts (Put them in therapy, remove children from their care, etc).

  2. h4rm0ny

    I was wrong.

    I remember when the IWF were first set up and they hit the tech news due to that incident where they blocked an album cover. I haven't searched for my old posts but I recall being pretty critical of an unelected and uncontrolled (as I saw it) body making judgement calls on content and having the power to mandate the blocking of things on their say so.

    A few years later and the tyrannical moral censor that I anticipated has failed to appear and instead they have done a lot of good work in dealing with child porn. Icon is for me and my getting caught up in mob-frenzy of paranoia and outrage.

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. Graham Marsden

      @h4arm0ny - Re: I was wrong.

      > the tyrannical moral censor that I anticipated has failed to appear

      Or has it simply not appeared in an obvious guise?

      I fully accept that action needs to be taken against those who commit child abuse and who post such pictures online, but, as Larry F54 says, how many false positives were there?

      Given the sort of Moral Panic that surrounds such things, I wouldn't doubt that there have been the equivalents of the album cover or pictures of children in the bath or on the beach which have been caught up in this, all of which have undoubtedly been included in that headline grabbing figure.

      1. h4rm0ny

        Re: @h4arm0ny - I was wrong.

        >>"Or has it simply not appeared in an obvious guise?"

        Well I don't exactly frequent the boundaries of culture so I would not necessarily be aware of it if they are erring on the side of caution with borderline cases. But so far as I'm aware, no - it has simply not appeared.

    3. Annihilator Silver badge

      Re: I was wrong.

      It was Nirvana's Nevermind on Wikipedia that got blocked. The bigger problem at the time (as I recall) was the half-assed implementation approach that ISPs had taken:

      1) Log on a high level filter

      2) Pass all traffic via a proxy to determine if the specific URL request was blocked (deep packet inspection)

      3) Legit URLs went through ok, but Wikipedia saw all the ISP's traffic coming from the single IP address of the proxy, and blocked access assuming it was a robot or an abuse of the service - particularly when trying to make edits.

      I assume the above has been fixed so it's a more intelligent solution (given all the torrent blocking is going the same route). Same thing happened at digital sharing sites (rapidshare etc).

      1. Colin Miller

        Re: I was wrong.

        It was The Scorpions Virgin Killer that triggered the block on Wikipedia. However, both Nirvana's Nevermind, and Led Zepplin's Houses of the Holy were discussed in the subsequent fallout.

      2. h4rm0ny

        Re: I was wrong.

        >>"It was Nirvana's Nevermind on Wikipedia that got blocked"

        No it wasn't. It was an album by a band called the The Scorpions which had a young girl with her crotch covered by fake damage to the CD cover. I wont link to it but you can look it up.

        The rest sounds accurate as I remember it, just the wrong band and album.

        1. Annihilator Silver badge

          Re: I was wrong.

          Ah yes, it was indeed the Scorpions.

    4. JP19

      Re: I was wrong.

      "to they have done a lot of good work in dealing with child porn"

      With everything they do shrouded in secrecy how could you know that?

      What proportion of those 31,000 sites were no more abusive than that album cover?

      1. Matt 21

        Re: I was wrong.

        Good point.

        It comes down to the government needing to be seen doing something, this is something and with today's advert we can now see that they're doing something.

    5. James 100

      Re: I was wrong.

      "A few years later and the tyrannical moral censor that I anticipated has failed to appear and instead they have done a lot of good work in dealing with child porn."

      Don't be so sure: it's the CleanFeed censorship system they feed which is now being used for the torrent site crackdown. Not their doing directly, but if they stuck to the takedown/investigation remit, we wouldn't have had that censorship infrastructure in place ready for that abuse.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What a sanity challenging job this must be. Kudos to the IWF for their hard work. No kudos for all the sick people making this sort of work a necessity.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I agree, I can forgive them any minor mistakes in blocking images that should not be blocked, because the job of looking at potential kiddie porn and deciding if its acceptable or not is a job I would not want...

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "What a sanity challenging job this must be."

      In my limited experience the people who volunteer for these roles often take a morbid interest in the subject. They get a righteous pleasure reward from declaring they are shocked. The more apparently zealous they are - then the more likely their own inner demons.

      IIRC one Chief Constable effectively said he would take people off the task if they started to show any sense of proportion.

      It is a danger of human nature to invest ones whole identity - to the point of obsession - in a virtuous crackdown on some activity designated as immoral. All sense of proportion is lost as the person becomes increasingly sensitised and eager for success. It has happened many times in the past - from Girolamo Savonarola to the Witchfinder General; from J. Edgar Hoover to Joseph McCarthy; from the Puritans to ISIL.

  4. Hellcat

    Last year, most material was hosted in North America (56 per cent) and Europe, including Russia (41 per cent)."

    So 97% is North America, Europe and Russia.

    This means either only 3% is hosted outside these fairly well policed areas, or the task of looking at the relatively lawless South America and Asia hasn't even started yet?

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Hit & miss

    The Telegraph published a chart of the figures for URLs reported for having illegal content.

    Out of 50,587 public reports only 9,133 were confirmed as possibly illegal.

    Out of 23,352 pro-actively processed 22,133 were confirmed as possibly illegal.

    The chart legend actually says says "confirmed as child sexual abuse imagery". Given some of the historical cases where even juries have decided otherwise - then it is a moot point exactly what IWS had "confirmed". They have a vested interest in boosting their figures.

    They seem to be saying that much of the material is hosted on "by invitation only" pages in general picture sites. It makes one wonder just how much they are immersing themselves in the trade in order to establish their credibility to access such invitations.

    The very high number of "public" reports of apparently innocent material suggests there are a lot of people who see "abuse" everywhere. Unfortunately they are often also vociferous in lobbying politicians and the media for disproportionately draconian measures.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    St Trinian's banned

    On a tangential theme - a strip club has been banned from having St Trinian's themed nights. It looked initially as if it was just the adverts that were banned - but the article quotes the judge as saying it includes:

    “a prohibition of any performer being clothed in a school uniform or otherwise attired or presented as being a school student or a child or being promoted as such in any media."

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: St Trinian's banned

      Hmmmm. Genuine, non-rhetorical questions....Are people who go to and event such as that nonces? Are they actually harming anyone? Is there any evidence to suggest that attending an event such as the above engenders nonce-y tendencies?

      This is a pickle of a subject, no mistake. Are we entering thought police territory sometimes?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: St Trinian's banned

        "Are we entering thought police territory sometimes?"

        We entered that in the UK a while ago. The content of a picture or a drawing may appear to be legal - but the alleged thoughts of the accused person when viewing them makes them illegal.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: St Trinian's banned

      WTF? that is mad...

      How many night clubs have a school themed night at least once a year?

      I remember attending them myself while at uni...

      And another thing... you can be over 18 and at school.. haven't they ever heard of a 6th form?

    3. Graham Marsden

      Re: St Trinian's banned

      Once again I give you the Paedofinder General!

      "She's 43, she's from accounts..."

      "She looks like 12 and that's what counts!"


  7. Crisp

    The protection of children shouldn't be left up to an unaccountable charity

    It needs proper oversight and transparency. And if the IWF runs out of donations then who will carry out this vital work?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The protection of children shouldn't be left up to an unaccountable charity

      "And if the IWF runs out of donations then who will carry out this vital work?"

      Presumably much of their funding comes from government departments? Many large charities are now funded more by the government than by public donations. They can't afford to risk losing their government grants.

      That has led to accusations of government covert interference - of being a stalking horse for policies that the public would reject if the government proposed them openly.

      The IWS is seen by some as a government smokescreen to justify increasing internet and communications surveillance and censorship.

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