April 17, 2008

Internet Watchdog Urges Global Initiative Against Online Child Abuse

A report released today by the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) said hundreds of Web sites with abusive images and videos of children could be shut down worldwide if countries worked together to address the problem.

The research was contained in the IWF's annual report, and was the organization's first attempt to quantify the precise number of Web sites that contain such content.  It also highlighted the problem of pedophiles sharing images between themselves online.

The report said IWF data had helped convict seven pedophiles and had contributed information to an additional 13 investigations.

The researchers identified 2,755 sites, typically run by criminal gangs attempting to profit from the images.  The report said that 80 percent of the Web sites were commercial operations.

"This is the first time any organization has revealed the true scale of this issue and been clear that the problem is something that can be solved," the watchdog organization said in a statement, according to a Reuters report.

Chief Executive Peter Robbins said the report would help make the case for a global initiative to eliminate the sites.

"A coordinated global attack on these Web sites could get these horrific images removed from the Web," he told Reuters.

"Speculative figures can create a distorted picture of the scale of the problem of child sexual abuse websites," he said, adding that the number of such sites have remained constant despite the exponential growth of the Internet.

The report urged the world's governments, police and the Internet industry to investigate and take action against the abusive sites.

"We think 2,755 is a manageable number," said an IWF spokeswoman.

"We are now asking for a worldwide effort to go in and really combat this issue."

Russia and the United States host the most images of the abuse of children, although there are others, according to the spokeswoman. The victims are from many countries, although it is hard to determine the exact locations, she added.

"Child identification is an extremely difficult process," she told Reuters.

"We often find that new material will surface in a non-commercial area ... and those same images will appear on the commercial Web sites a year or so later."

It is often difficult to shut down illegal Web sites because operators can simply switch countries, temporarily close them or switch between different Internet hosting providers.  Indeed, 71 percent of the sites were online for less than 50 days of the year during 2007, according to the report.

In Britain, such Web sites are typically closed within hours.  And during the past five years less than one percent of child abuse content was hosted on UK computers, down from 18 percent in 1997.

Established in1996, the Internet Watch Foundation is a self-regulating charity funded by the Internet industry and the European Union.  Its role is to remove child abuse, criminally obscene material and racist content from the Internet.


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