A charity (the IWF) hands over a legal responsibility (reporting hate crime) to a limited company (ACPO): 21st Century Britain
I’m treading on dangerous ground here, but I have to admit that I have always been a little concerned about one of our national treasures, the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF). The IWF’s primary purpose is to reduce online child pornography, which it legitimately describes as child sexual abuse images. And it has had, or at least claims to have had, considerable success. So why should I be worried?
The reason is this: child abuse is illegal. We already have an organisation designed to tackle illegality: it is called the police, backed by the courts, and responsible to the democratically elected government. My concern is that an independent organisation (an incorporated charity, limited by guarantee) should behave independently in a manner that combines functions of both the police and the courts, but without the responsibility to the electorate. It provides, in its own words, a
- Reporting mechanism for the public to report any inadvertent exposure to potentially criminal child sexual abuse content.
- ‘Notice and takedown’ system to swiftly remove child sexual abuse content at source in the UK.
- Targeted assessment and monitoring system to remove child sexual abuse content in newsgroups.
- Provision of a child sexual abuse URL list to internet service providers, mobile operators, search providers and filtering providers to help disrupt access to child sexual abuse content which is hosted outside the UK and not yet taken down.
- Working with domain name registries and registrars to deregister domain names dedicated to the distribution of child sexual abuse content.
I believe that the IWF behaves responsibly. But the potential for independent organisations to take a vigilante role on the internet is what worries me.
So, do I want the IWF abolished? No, I want the police to take responsibility for their responsibility so that the IWF is no longer necessary. And that is why I (almost) wholeheartedly welcome the new True Vision website “for reporting all hate crimes online [that] has been launched by the police.” Crime should be reported to the police and not to a charity. And I definitely welcome the IWF’s statement:
All reports of incitement to racial hatred content hosted in the UK previously reported to the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) should now be reported directly to True Vision.
My only slight concern is that True Vision is not what I would call a police or Home Office website, it is “owned by the Association of Chief Police Officers [ACPO]”. ACPO “is a private limited company… funded by Home Office grants, profits from commercial activities and contributions from the 44 UK police authorities.” (Wikipedia) Frankly, I’m not sure I’m any happier that a private company funded by commercial profit should be allowed to behave as if it is the police funded by the taxpayer, than that a charity should have say in what sites should and should not be allowed to operate.