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Sunday, 17 February, 2002, 09:18 GMT
Porn watchdog under fire
Girls on a computer
The IWF looks after the interests of children on the net
Britain's online porn watchdog, the Internet Watch Foundation, has announced a new chief executive and a tough new policy on child pornography amid resignations and criticisms.

The IWF was set up in 1996 in response to the growing amount of illegal pornography on the internet.

It has come in for criticism, both from civil liberties organisations and from those lobbying for more to be done to remove paedophile content from the net.

New chief executive Peter Robbins, a senior ranking officer in the Metropolitan Police, is due to take over the helm on 1 April.

Banning newsgroups

In a major change of policy the IWF is recommending that all UK ISPs remove newsgroups that have names that appear to advocate or advertise paedophile content.

Newsgroups have long been seen as the internet's discussion boards and they cover a huge range of material, including political debate.

The decision to ban suspect newsgroups is a U-turn from its old policy of notice and takedown - a far less proactive approach to illegal content which resulted in the removal of 40,000 items of child pornography.

Frankly, policy-making at the IWF is becoming what the bloke down the pub thinks

Malcolm Hutty, civil rights campaigner
Civil liberties campaigner Malcolm Hutty resigned from the board this week in protest over the blanket banning of newsgroups.

"By just going on the name of the newsgroup, there will be legal stuff that is banned as well. There was no debate and I felt that if there wasn't the opportunity to state a case there wasn't any point being there," he told BBC News Online.

He believes the organisation is becoming more hardline and less willing to listen to argument.

"Frankly, policy-making at the IWF is becoming what the bloke down the pub thinks," he said.

Pressure on ISPs

The IWF was conceived as the internet industry's own self-regulated body to deal with illegal net content and avoid police intervention. It is largely funded by internet service providers.

With its new desire to put pressure on ISPs, Mr Hutty is not convinced that funding will last.

"How long will ISPs want to fund an organisation that is just used as a political stick to beat them with?" he asked.

It is hard to gauge the amount of paedophile activity on the net but two huge police raids in recent years have uncovered online paedophile rings with hundreds of members trading thousands of illegal images of children.

Popular chatrooms on services like Yahoo's instant messaging service have also been used by paedophiles to involve children in inappropriate sexual conversations.

Two other members of the IWF board have recently resigned. New board members include Dr Sonia Livingstone, an expert on how children use the internet and Jim Reynolds, an international consultant on the issues of paedophilia and first head of the Paedophilia Unit at Scotland Yard.

See also:

14 Feb 02 | England
Child porn seized in raid
08 Jan 02 | Sci/Tech
Porn watchdog chief stands down
10 Aug 01 | Sci/Tech
Britons drawn to online porn
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