Questions of how to protect children from inappropriate content or how to tackle copyright infringing material are just some of the debates that will play an important part in shaping the future of the internet.
The debates of 2011 are very different to the debates of 1996. 15 years ago the press demanded that something needed to be done to ensure that innocent users of the internet did not experience images of child sexual abuse popping up without warning. The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) was founded in direct response to this.
It's hard to believe that 15 years have passed since these debates and how different the internet is today. Interviewed recently, Peter Dawe, founder of the IWF, recalled early internet companies were in the mode of "frontiersman". It is true that they were - the internet may be ubiquitous now but then it was a new, uncharted but promising territory. What Peter Dawe and others did was propose a solution to the problem - a self-regulatory body that people could report web pages containing child sexual abuse that would work with its industry backers and law enforcement to remove such content.
The idea was novel and unprecedented but it worked and this year we celebrate our 15th anniversary. As a result of our work with the online industry, the volume of UK-hosted child sexual abuse content has reduced from 18% in 1997 to less than 1% since 2003. We have also forged international links with Hotlines in other countries and global law enforcement to ensure child sexual abuse content is removed, no matter where it is hosted. It is true that the internet is without borders but our commitment does not recognise such limitations as countries either.
Our commitment is made clear in statistics, released today, that show in 15 years we have helped remove nearly 87,000 webpages that contained images of children being sexually abused and tortured. For a team of 16 this is incredible and we are proud to have played our part nationally and internationally to remove images of child sexual abuse. Full credit, however, must be shared with the global internet industry which shares our vision of an internet free from images of the worst crimes imaginable. We describe these crimes without exaggeration:
Preventing the revictimisation of those children and protecting the public from stumbling across this horrific content is our priority. Sadly new content appears daily and hosting patterns change but we have grown and adapted in order to meet this challenge and we will continue to do so.
Yesterday the online industry, Government and our partners reflected on the work of the IWF over its first 15 years with an event in Westminster. This event was the perfect opportunity to reflect on successes and reiterate our goal of an internet free of child sexual abuse content. But to call it a celebration would be wrong - why would we celebrate the necessity of an organisation like the IWF?
It's unfortunate that the IWF is so desperately needed but I am thankful that it is here.
The Internet Watch Foundation is the UK Hotline to report criminal online content in a secure and confidential way. Their remit covers:
Reports can be made at www.iwf.org.uk.
Reports can be made anonymously and may help to trace and rescue a victim of sexual abuse.