The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) has warned the government to undergo a ‘reality check’ after millions of child sex abuse images were removed from the general internet last year.
A record number of reports of online child sexual abuse images were processed by the IWF. However, it added that the availability of illegal content online could still be increasing on the open internet.
Histon-based IWF, the UK charity responsible for finding and removing images and videos of child sexual abuse from the internet, processed more than a quarter of a million reports in 2019 – an increase of 14 per cent on the previous year. Of these reports, 132,700 showed images and/or videos of children being sexually abused. This compares to 105,047 reports of child sexual abuse material in 2018 – an increase of 26 per cent.
IWF CEO Susie Hargreaves said: “What’s really shocking is that it’s all available on the open internet, or ‘clear web’. That’s the everyday internet that we all use to do our shopping, search for information, and obtain our news.
“Obviously, we know there’s child sexual abuse content on the dark web, but right now it’s really a case of saying ‘we’ve got to get a grip on the epidemic on our open internet’, and now is the time to do it.
“As the government considers new regulatory legislation on online harms, this presents a real opportunity to do just that.
“These figures show the crucial role the IWF plays as a vital avenue for the public to report online child sexual abuse material.
“Child sexual abuse is an horrific topic for people to talk about, but as a society we have got to take on board a heavy dose of reality and face up to what’s right in front of us.
“IWF is a uniquely-placed service working to improve the internet for people across the world. Our partnerships with police and technology companies are essential to stop this abuse happening.
“Whilst we’re investing in the right technology and staff to battle this online epidemic, it is still really shocking to see the number of reports going up.
“It might seem like a needle in a haystack, but every single image is of a real child. As long as there’s one child’s image out there, we will never stop removing this content. Thanks to our analysts, millions of images that would otherwise still be online are eradicated from the internet.”