Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 220-239)


18 MARCH 2008

  Q220  Helen Southworth: Does ISPA have a specific budget for child online protection?

  Mr Lansman: We do. It is perhaps unfair to judge big corporate companies for failing to split up budget lines into the minutiae of detail. However, I do take your point which is very important.

  Q221  Helen Southworth: I do not think child protection online is "minutiae of detail".

  Mr Lansman: The big corporates will have multi-billion pound budgets. I think that splitting up——

  Q222  Helen Southworth: I do not know whether their customers would think the same.

  Mr Lansman: I volunteer to go back to the membership and suggest that we try to provide the Committee with some information on that. I can see where you are coming from. As to ISPA itself, it is a not for profit trade association and every year it allocates £20,000 out of a sum of between £200,000 and £300,000 which is the turnover from membership fees in the main, so somewhere between 10% of the revenue of ISPA goes to the Internet Watch Foundation as a fee. In addition, a great deal of the time of ISPA staff and members is spent on secondment to various charities, CEOP and work with the Home Office. The problem is one of trying to allocate an enormous amount of time and resource from people whose jobs are to deal with lots of things where child abuse images and child protection are just one of the issues. It is more a problem of unpicking the financials than a lack of willingness to do it.

  Q223  Helen Southworth: I want to ask about notice and take down policies for potentially illegal content. Once something has been reported as potentially illegal how long does it take before it is removed?

  Ms de Stempel: It is a matter of 24 hours. We have a system similar to that of CEOP and an escalation process, for example, for child abuse images if it is flagged as such. Unless people flag us as to exactly what it is, all abuse might end up in the same box, but that would be removed from our service, so it will no longer be available to anyone else who has not opened an email where it is attached and law enforcement then picks it up for us.

  Mr Galvin: It is done in 24 hours. Often to speed up the process when something is reported to us rather than have a debate about whether or not it is illegal it is a lot quicker to say that under our taste and decency policy we have the power to remove it immediately and not get into a debate about the legalities of it. Quite a lot of the notice and take down occurs under our taste and decency policy rather than a debate about whether or not it is illegal.

  Q224  Helen Southworth: Is 24 hours an industry standard?

  Mr Lansman: The law defines the notice and take down procedure as "it should be removed expeditiously", so there is no clarity on what the time should be. But on issues such as child abuse images for the industry the answer is "as quickly as possible". We have referred to 24 hours. I think there are other types of content where there must be a greater reflection, but I think that for child abuse images it is done as quickly as possible and 24 hours is an industry standard.

  Q225  Helen Southworth: Are you confident that it is met?

  Mr Lansman: It is best practice.

  Q226  Helen Southworth: You just added "best practice" as I asked whether you were confident it was met. There are issues as to whether something is best practice or it is the standard.

  Mr Lansman: I am confident that the Internet Watch Foundation which obviously will deliver the notices has never reported anything other than speedy co-operation with industry.

  Q227  Helen Southworth: What about users reporting content that they find distasteful but is not necessarily illegal?

  Ms de Stempel: We have very stringent conditions of service attached. Each member of ISPA has its own standards of service, so if it breaches any of our terms of service it will be taken down expeditiously as well.

  Q228  Helen Southworth: For example, bullying or pro-suicide sites?

  Ms de Stempel: Absolutely. If it is hosted on our service and is against our policy it will be taken down.

  Mr Galvin: Absolutely. I think the importance of a taste and decency clause in the terms and conditions is that it gives you much more freedom of choice about what sites you host. We and all the reputable ISPs have a very low bar for what we consider to cross the taste and decency line. A pro-suicide site would make it over the bar by miles. We are now taking down things that would cause offence, for example the publication of people's personal details. Basically, the taste and decency policy is defined as anything that causes distress to our customers.

  Mr Lansman: ISPA's position has been to help quite a lot of the smaller ISPs which have acceptable use policies (AUPs). This has developed a best practice template for an AUP. Obviously, the issue about "harmful" is one that is open to interpretation. To whom is it harmful? I think it is right that different ISPs through their acceptable use policies can take slightly different views on what is acceptable or not to their service. There are ISPs that provide access to the Internet and take a much stricter family view where their communities are more geared to families and there are other ISPs which will take a slightly more open-minded adult view, accepting that customers might be in a different community. I think that is right because it is difficult to get the balance right between what is someone's harm and another's freedom to look at.

  Ms de Stempel: Within those constraints we might have even greater granularity as to some of the things that are allowed in kids' chat rooms or in a football chat room after 11.30 when pubs are closed. The language we would allow in football chat rooms after pub closing is very much more permissive than in a child's chat room. For example, if you say a bad word beginning with "f" in a kid's chat room you will get a warning about that language. If you use the same word after 11.30 at night in a football chat room it may be seen as banter rather than a bad word.

  Q229  Helen Southworth: How would you handle the fact that irrespective of what time it is put on it can be accessed at any point at a later date?

  Ms de Stempel: Because we have reporting mechanisms. If somebody reports me for saying a bad word it will have a stamp as to where I was exactly on AOL's or any other service and at what time.

  Q230  Helen Southworth: But the fact is that you have a football chat room which you say takes place after the pub is closed and is put on a site at a specific time.

  Ms de Stempel: Yes.

  Q231  Helen Southworth: You do not have a watershed like television. If television puts out something after nine o'clock there is a watershed but if it wants to repeats it next morning at nine or 10 o'clock it cannot put it out again, whereas yours will remain on the site; you cannot hold the watershed.

  Ms de Stempel: No. A chat room has gone as soon as the page has gone, so it will not remain on the site.

  Q232  Helen Southworth: You work on the assumption that by the time other people add to it the site will have disappeared?

  Mr Galvin: Yes; it lasts for only a few minutes and has temporary content.

  Mr Lansman: You are alluding to the difficulty that the Internet is a global environment and someone's watershed in the UK is not someone's watershed in America. That is an issue because of global time differences and the fact that the Internet is available everywhere at all times.

  Mr Galvin: What is regarded in this country as bad language may not be so regarded elsewhere.

  Q233  Chairman: Are your chat rooms moderated?

  Ms de Stempel: For children, absolutely.

  Q234  Chairman: Not the football chat room?

  Ms de Stempel: You can call in someone to help you if something is happening in the football chat room.

  Q235  Chairman: I can set up a chat room now. There are lots of sites that allow individuals to set up chat rooms that cannot possibly be moderated?

  Ms de Stempel: No.

  Q236  Chairman: You are operating a walled garden but outside of that it is a free for all?

  Ms de Stempel: It is not a free for all; it is about the people who are in the chat room. That is why we build those reporting mechanisms. We have different approaches to the reporting mechanisms to which Mr Galvin referred. Different ISPs or content providers have different approaches to the concept of exactly where it leads but everyone has a reporting mechanism. The important thing is to be able to report an activity on one's service so the service provider can take appropriate action.

  Q237  Chairman: But if I go onto one of the websites which allows the creation of chat rooms—one is called Chatsy—it has no system whereby I can report abuse.

  Mr Lansman: You are right in pointing out the difference between an Internet service provider and a chat room which may be a website set up by anyone, including yourself. Where an ISP such as AOL provides a chat room service for children and so forth it can monitor and moderate it and make sure it is safe for its community. If it is set up by anyone or another organisation it has to be treated as a website and if necessary end users can filter so as not to go into that website.

  Q238  Chairman: If you were moderating a children's chat room and you became suspicious that somebody who came into it was pretending to be a child would you report it to the police?

  Ms de Stempel: Absolutely.

  Q239  Chairman: Therefore, you are proactive in seeking out abuse?

  Ms de Stempel: We are not seeking it out, but if someone is seen to be behaving inappropriately we will report it. Not long ago we reported a message on the message board which was not illegal or against our terms of service; it just smelt inappropriate. We reported for advice as to what we should do. We take it down just in case but then we report it for advice. We have to build on our experience as commercial people.

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