2 Child abuse images |
Nature and scale
5. Both the publication and possession of child abuse
images are illegal. This is one form of censorship that commands
near universal support. Not only do such images represent actual
crime scenes, but they are likely to be used by online paedophiles
to encourage and legitimise their criminal activities. The law
in the UK recognises this by proscribing a range of images of
different types, whether photographic or not.
6. Estimating the scale of child abuse images on
the internet is problematical given the secretive nature of much
online activity by paedophiles. The term "child pornography",
while still in common use, not least in legal texts, is now largely
abjured by professionals working in child protection. In no way
can images of this kind by likened to consensual activities depicted
in legal adult pornography. Paedophiles ought to be denied any
comfort when seeking to affirm their practices and preferences.
Accordingly, we shall use the terms "child abuse images"
or "child sexual abuse images" to refer to the material
covered in this section of our report. Claire Lilley of the NSPCC
We need to educate people that these are not
just images; that by looking at these images, they are committing
an offence; that a child is being re-victimised every single time
an image is looked at; and that they are potentially affecting
their own sensitivity around the issue and escalating their own
ability to go down that route and end up abusing in the physical
sense themselves. There is quite a lot of research now about the
crossover between non-contact and contact offending and CEOP would
put it at about 50%. There are a couple of studies that put it
at between 40% and 55%, which is a very high level of crossover.
It is not just looking at an image; it is much more dangerous
Peter Davies of CEOP underlined this point: "anybody
who possesses indecent images of children is a criminal, but is
also somebody who might present an additional risk to children,
as if that were not enough."
7. As the NSPCC notes, child abuse images are a visual
record of the sexual abuse of a child. They can include pseudophotographs,
animations, drawings, tracings, videos and films which are being
streamed live. In the UK images are graded on a 1-5 scale. Level
5 images involve sadism or bestiality, Level 4 will portray a
child engaged in penetrative sexual activity and so on to Level
1, where the images will depict erotic posing with no visible
sexual activity. In
2012 the NSPCC issued FOI requests to every local police force
in England and Wales asking them to state how many child abuse
images they had seized in arrests made in the two years ending
April 2012. The five police forces (none of which had a large
metropolitan base) that
replied had seized over 26 million such images. The Children's
Charities' Coalition on Internet Safety told us that, on one calculation,
that would imply that over 300 million illegal images may have
been seized by all forces over the same period.
Many of the images seen by the Internet Watch Foundation have
been recycled, though one or two new imageseach representing
a new victimare seen weekly.
8. Section 1 of the Protection of Children Act 1978
makes it a criminal offence to take, permit to be taken or to
make, distribute, show, advertise or possess for distribution
any indecent photograph or pseudo-photograph of a child under
the age of 18. Simple possession by individuals is proscribed
by the Criminal Justice Act 1988. The 1978 Act defines a pseudo-photograph
as "an image, whether made by computer-graphics or otherwise
howsoever, which appears to be a photograph." Pseudophotographs
were brought within the ambit of the Act by dint of the Criminal
Justice and Public Order Act 1994. The Criminal Justice and Immigration
Act 2008 extended the definition of an indecent photograph to
include a tracing or other image derived from a photograph or
pseudophotograph. Part 2, Chapter 2 of the Coroners and Justice
Act 2009 extended the law proscribing the possession of child
pornography to include non-photographic images such as cartoons,
drawings and computer-generated images.
9. Peter Davies of CEOP told us: "it is quite
remarkable to me how far the criminal legislation, for example,
around indecent images of children, which was, I believe, conceived
and passed before the internet was around, has still pretty much
stood up to the new world of child abuse online, and I do not
think what we need is a basic root-and-branch piece of work."
He added that "the UK has just about the best suite of child
protection legislation that there is, and that we are more of
an example to others than we are in need of catching up."
At a recent discussion meeting of the Digital Policy Alliance,
the Deputy Director of CEOP Command, Andy Baker, referred in general
terms to child protection legislation more widely; he suggested
it would be better to "tidy it up".
The fact that the Communications Act 2003 was drafted with no
mention of the internet also should be addressed. We believe
that the Government should, in due course, consolidate the law
around child abuse images into a single Act of Parliament with
a view to providing even greater clarity for the purposes of law
enforcement and deterrence.
10. Clearly the fight against child abuse and child
abuse content on the internet is an international one. Peter
Davies referred to two conventionsthe Budapest Convention
and the Lanzarote Conventionwhich together aim to provide
a legal framework for protecting children online. The Budapest
Convention on Cybercrime
and the Lanzarote Convention on the Protection of Children against
Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse
are both Conventions of the Council of Europe. The United Kingdom
is a signatory to both, though it has ratified only the former.
Last July, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office
(Lord Taylor of Holbeach) was unable to say when the Government
expected to ratify the Lanzarote Convention; he said: "Until
the work to assess the practical arrangements is complete, it
will not be possible to confirm the timescales for ratification.
That work remains ongoing."
Given the worldwide nature of online crime, we recommend that
the Government press for wider international adoption of both
the Budapest and Lanzarote Conventions. The Government should
ratify the Lanzarote Convention as soon as practicable.
11. Peter Davies of CEOP referred to an assessment,
published in June 2013,
which gives an estimate of around 50,000 people in the UK who
commit child sexual abuse offences "at least to the level
of possessing indecent images of children."
He went on to tell us that the highest volume of offenders are
using peer-to-peer networks rather than the open internet. "Far
fewer" offenders are using the hidden internet, "also
known as Tor or The Onion Router or something similar."
12. The proliferation of material which is illegal
in all circumstances poses a particular threat and a range of
challenges, not least to law enforcement. John Carr of the Children's
Charities' Coalition on Internet Safety referred to the challenge
posed by the scale of online child sexual abuse: "I think
it is a profound shock to realise that so many people are interested
in that type of material. There is an appetite for it and people
go and get it, and they circulate it. They are getting away with
it because we do not have the capacity to stamp it out."
Peter Davies of CEOP referred to a need for "a plan that
goes beyond enforcement".
That is not to diminish the vital role that law enforcement must
continue to play. The former chief executive of CEOP, Jim Gamble,
emphasised the need to deter paedophiles by applying the law as
it currently stands.
Citing figures given by Peter Davies, Jim Gamble said:
On the 50,000 Peter talks about, those are peer-to-peer
sites. Those are hard-core paedophiles who do not stumble across
anything on Google. They nest in these places on the internet
where they can share secretly. You have to infiltrate that. You
have to infiltrate it. You have to identify who they are and follow
them offline and arrest them.
13. He went on to propose the recruitment, by each
police force, of up to ten special constables to work online.
Their job would be to seek out online paedophiles with the aim
of achieving arrests in sufficient numbers to have a significant
Mr Gamble puts a cost of £1.4 million on setting up such
a scheme which would include the recruitment of 12 detective sergeants
and 12 trainers and coordinators.
He told us: "If you did that, you would have 520 people
online at any given time who could manifestly cover 10, 20, 30
or 40 chat-room environments, where you would have people out
there protecting our children. Not rogue vigilantes, but properly
vetted, properly trained and accredited and properly supervised
officers online. To me, that is what we should be thinking about
so we attack the root cause, which is people."
14. CEOP (Child Exploitation and Online Protection)
is now one of the four commands within the National Crime Agency,
which commenced on 7 October 2013. The CEOP centre has existed
since 2006 and was previously affiliated to the Serious Organised
Crime Agency. Peter Davies told us: "Our mission, whether
as a centre or as a command, as we are now, is to protect children
from sexual exploitation and sexual abuse. When we were founded,
there was heavy emphasis on online protection. Our remit does
not limit us to online activity, but what we try to do is to become
a national hub for intelligence, a national contact point and
a source of expertise and specialist support on any aspect of
child sexual exploitation that would benefit from that approach."
Mr Davies also highlighted the contributions being made by online
child protection units in UK police forces.
15. In its evidence, the Home Office praised the
Child Exploitation and Online Protection Command of the National
Crime Agency for both its operational work and educational programmes.
In 2012/13 CEOP received an average of 1,600 reports per month
of abuse from the public and the internet industry, a 14% increase
on the previous year. "CEOP maintains close relationships
with a wide range of stakeholders from law enforcement, industry
and the educational sectors nationally and internationally."
In 2012/13, CEOP protected 790 children from sexual abuse, an
increase of 85% on the previous year, and its work led to the
arrest of 192 suspects.
16. According to the Home Office, the CEOP budget
"has effectively been protected in cash terms since 2011/12"
and "there are now more people working in CEOP than at any
time in its history".
The Home Office also states that becoming part of the NCA will
bring advantages to CEOP (such as access to greater capacity and
support from other parts of the NCA) and that all NCA officers
will receive mandatory training on safeguarding children. The
Minister of State for Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims,
Damian Green, described becoming an arm of the National Crime
Agency as a "game-changer"
for CEOP because of access to increased resources. Peter Davies
told us that incorporation of CEOP into the National Crime Agency
was "absolutely a good thing."
His predecessor, Jim Gamble, clearly disagrees. He described
subsuming CEOP into the National Crime Agency as "a recipe
Mr Gamble added:
To take a child protection agency and put it
into a national crime agency where the brand has now been diluted,
where they will continue to have protection under Freedom of Information,
which is fundamentally wrong, how can you have a child protection
entity that is not subject to Freedom of Information? You have
a child protection entity that is answerable through the NCA to
one political person, the Home Secretary. Where is the credible
reassurance around that? Where are the lessons of serious case
review around professional independence and challenge? The fact
of the matter is we had planned the three pillars to be education,
social care, and criminal justice. We now have moved to one pillar,
which is criminal justice.
17. We recommend that the Government examines
whether adequate resources are being deployed to track down online
paedophiles in sufficient numbers to act as a meaningful deterrent
to others. If not, additional funding should be provided to recruit
and train a sufficiently large number of police officers adequate
to the task.
18. CEOP has been increasingly effective not least
because it is not solely a criminal justice organisation: its
education and social care work has also been very important in
increasing public understanding of the problem of child abuse
and in offering means of countering abusers. We therefore recommend
that CEOP continues to publish an annual review which includes
an assessment of its ongoing contribution to all three elements
of its missioneducation, social care and criminal justice.
19. Tracing paedophiles online clearly involves allowing
the police to deploy a range of surveillance methods. The Regulation
of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 aims to provide a legal regime
for both interception of communications and access to communications
data that is consistent with human rights legislationspecifically
having regard to privacy and proportionality. Peter Davies argued
for further changes to the relevant legislation:
It is my firm operational view, and I have articulated
it previously, that if there is one piece of legislation that
would most help us tackle online child abuse, it would be the
provision of a clear, consistent and properly enforced regime
for retaining and accessing communications data, because we are
regularly in a situation where we are unable to convert, for example,
an IP address into a name and address for lack of that precise
20. One potential area of operational difficulty
was illustrated in evidence from the End Violence Against Women
Coalition; their evidence cites CEOP as having warned that live
streaming of child abuse through Skype and other platforms is
emerging as a growing method of abusers sharing child abuse images.
A government briefing on proposals on the investigation of crime
in cyberspace, prepared for the Queen's Speech in 2013, noted:
When communicating over the Internet, people
are allocated an Internet Protocol (IP) address. However, these
addresses are generally shared between a number of people. In
order to know who has actually sent an email or made a Skype call,
the police need to know who used a certain IP address at a given
point in time. Without this, if a suspect used the internet to
communicate instead of making a phone call, it may not be possible
for the police to identify them.
21. A draft Communications Data Bill was announced
in the Queen's Speech in 2012 and it was published on 14 June
2012. It was scrutinised by a Joint Committee of both Houses of
Parliament and was also considered by the Joint Committee on Human
Rights (JCHR) and the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC).
The draft Bill would have extended powers to obtain communications
data covering messages sent on social media, webmail, voice calls
over the internet and gaming in addition to emails and phone calls.
The data could have included the time, duration, originator and
recipient of a communication and the location of the device from
which it is made. However, it would not have included the actual
content of messages. The Joint Committee on the draft Bill published
its report on 11 December 2012, concluding that the Bill's scope
should be significantly narrowed, while recognising that more
needed to be done to provide law enforcement and other agencies
with access to data they cannot currently obtain. The Bill would
have sat alongside the existing Data Retention (EC Directive)
22. An illustration of both the capability and concerns
of internet service providers was given us by Dido Harding of
I feel very strongly the weight of responsibility
as an internet service provider in that our customers place their
faith in the fact that it is their data, not our data, to choose
what to do with and, therefore, we need a clear legal framework
on what we store and what we do not store.
We do not keep browsing history of where our
customers browse every day of the week that is their data,
not oursunless or until there was a change in legislation
that required us to.
It is very important that the ISPs do not feel
like it is a free-for-all to use that data. Our customers do not
expect that of us. We have been thinking through, if it is entirely
criminal, how we get to a place where we can do that proactively
23. The South West Grid for Learning told us that
they have been working with the Internet Watch Foundation and
South West police forces since 2006 to flag up any attempted access
to websites containing child abuse images (CAI). This pilot project
has been managed by CEOP with Home Office approval. Its objective
is to flag intelligence to police forces if anyone in a school
(specifically) attempts to access a website containing child abuse
images. This intelligence prompts the police to then undertake
their normal investigation routes and has resulted in a number
of school staff being identified and removed as a direct result
of what South West Grid for Learning terms a "simple alerting
added: "We believe we should use technology better to identify
those accessing CAI (and extremist material) and we are involved
in a project with Plymouth University and IWF to extend and refine
our existing alerting capability."
We welcome the increasing use of alerting tools to identify
individuals who seek out child abuse and other illegal material
online provided these tools are deployed in ways that do not unduly
compromise the privacy of the law-abiding majority.
Internet service providers
24. The scope for further practical action against
illegal content is better understood by recognising the different
types of providers and how they fit within the current regulatory
framework. The Internet Services Providers' Association identifies
four main categories of internet companies:
· Access providersconsidered to be
"mere conduits" under the e-commerce regulations
· Hosting providersthese include
social networks; while these do not have editorial control over
content uploaded by users, they may have active or passive moderating
policies. Under Regulation 19 of the e-Commerce Regulations they
are not liable for the content they host as long as they do not
have actual knowledge of unlawful activity or information. "However,
upon obtaining such knowledge, hosting providers become liable
if they do not act expeditiously to remove or to disable access
to the information."
· Websites where operators have editorial
controlcontent might include a news article and user-generated
content like comments on the article.
· Search engines considered as "caches"
under Regulation 18 of the e-Commerce Regulations; search engines
"act expeditiously to remove or to disable access to any
information if they are made aware of that the fact that this
information may be illegal."
Internet Watch Foundation
25. The UK internet industry was responsible for
founding the Internet Watch Foundation, a membership organisation
that serves as the UK hotline where the public can report child
sexual abuse content, criminally obscene adult content and non-photographic
images of child sexual abuse. In 2012 alone, the IWF processed
39,211 reports and assisted with the removal of 9,696 URLs containing
potentially criminal child sexual abuse content. A URL can be
as specific as a single image or could refer to an entire website
containing potentially thousands of child sexual abuse images
or videos. The majority of victims (81%) appeared to be 10 years
old or younger (with 4% 2 years old or under) and 53% of the images
and videos depicted sexual activity between adults and children,
including rape and sexual torture.
26. When child sexual abuse content is found to be
hosted in the UK, the IWF will inform CEOP. After confirmation
from CEOP that action can be taken, the IWF will notify the hosting
provider who will remove the content from its servers, typically
within 60 minutes after receiving the notification from the IWF.
This process is commonly referred to as 'Notice and Takedown'.
The IWF can also act against criminally obscene adult content
and non-photographic child sexual abuse content hosted in the
27. When child sexual abuse content is found to be
hosted outside the UK (accounting for 99% of known content), the
IWF will inform its counterpart hotline in the hosting country
through INHOPE, the international association of hotlines, or
link in directly with local law enforcement. As other countries
take significantly longer to remove child sexual abuse content50%
of the content about which the IWF passes on details internationally
is still available after 10 daysthe IWF adds the links
(URLs) to the content to its URL list (or 'blocking list'). IWF
members can use this list to voluntarily block access to these
URLs to protect their customers from stumbling upon the images
and videos. The Home Office told us that such blocking arrangements
apply to about 98.6% of domestic broadband lines.
Susie Hargreaves of the Internet Watch Foundation told us: "The
most effective way to remove content is to remove it at source.
It is our view that blocking will only stop inadvertent access
and will not stop the determined."
28. On 18 June 2013, the Secretary of State for Culture,
Media and Sport, Maria Miller, hosted a summit on tackling child
sexual abuse material on the internet as well as protecting children
from harmful or inappropriate content online. Participants included
internet service providers, search engines, mobile operators and
social media companies. Following the summit, the Secretary of
State announced that the Internet Watch Foundation would work
with CEOP to actively seek out illegal images of child abuse
on the internet. The Internet Watch Foundation told us that,
following a donation by Google and additional funding by other
members, they will be able to increase their number of analysts
from 4.5 (FTE) to
11.5 (FTE) and start proactively searching for child sexual abuse
content as requested by the Government.
29. We very much welcome the commitment by the
Internet Watch Foundation to embark on proactive searching for
online child abuse images. The sooner these can be found and
removed, the better. However, we are concerned that seven additional
staff might prove woefully insufficient to achieve substantial
progress towards what must be an important intermediate goal:
the eradication of child abuse images from the open internet.
30. The IWF told us that, in addition to "Notice
and Takedown" and the URL list, they also compile a keyword
list of terms that specifically refer to child sexual abuse content:
This list is used, for instance, by search engines
to prevent people from finding images and videos of child sexual
abuse content. The keywords are very specificor very specific
combinations of wordsthat carry no meaning besides the
specific reference to child sexual abuse content. This means the
keywords will not prevent access to legitimate websites such as,
academic research papers into the area of child sexual abuse or
websites aimed to help or inform people in relation to child sexual
31. The Government has asked search engine providers
to go further in restricting access to child abuse images. According
to the Home Office, they are being asked to develop effective
deterrence measures, to ensure child abuse images are not returned
in search results, and to prevent any search results being returned
"when specific search terms are used that have been identified
by CEOP as being unambiguously aimed at accessing illegal child
sexual abuse images."
If progress is not forthcoming, the Government will consider
introducing legislation to ensure search engines comply.
32. The IWF is also working with its members to introduce
"splash pages"these are warning messages that
appear if a user attempts to access a webpage that has been removed
for hosting illegal child abuse images. According to the IWF,
"they deliver a hard-hitting deterrence message to users
seeking to access child abuse images."
Greater use of splash pages and warning messages "to deter
a certain class of person with a low level, opportunist or early
interest in child abuse images" is one of a number of tactics
put to us by the Children's Charities' Coalition on Internet Safety.
Jim Gamble reminded us that splash screens would not result in
more hard-core paedophiles being arrested: "it is a diversion
of attention and resource that does not work. We tried it."
The Home Office pointed out to us that the objective of further
work by search engines and greater use of splash pages "is
to make it more difficult for unsophisticated users to find a
route from open searching to more sophisticated offending environments,
make it more difficult for inquisitive non-offenders to access
indecent images of children, and make it less likely that members
of the public could inadvertently come across such images."
33. Search engines and other internet service
providers have a vital role in ensuring that access to online
child abuse images is prevented and deterred. We expect the Government
to monitor closely their degree of commitment and success and
to consider the introduction of legislation should they fall short
of reasonable expectations.
34. Much of the evidence we took on illegal content
was in relation to child abuse images. However, in the United
Kingdom at least, certain categories of extreme adult pornography
are illegal both to publish and possess. Pornographic material
that explicitly and realistically depicts a variety of non-consensual
and injurious practices was outlawed (in England and Wales) by
the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008. Similar provisions
also appear in the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act
2010, with the notable addition of obscene pornographic images
which realistically depict rape or other non-consensual penetrative
sexual activity. The Criminal Justice and Courts Bill, currently
before Parliament, would extend to England and Wales the definition
of the offence of possession of extreme pornographic images to
include rape. We welcome the Government's decision to include
pornographic depictions of rape in the definition of extreme pornography.
It has been illegal to publish such images for many years; outlawing
their possession is long overdue.
35. Evidence we received from the Home Office also
considered another area within the inquiry's terms of reference:
tackling material intended to promote terrorism or other acts
of violence online. A specialist police unit, the Counter Terrorism
Referral Unit (CTIRU) proactively seeks and takes down UK-hosted
material that breaches the Terrorism Act 2006. UK law has limited
application in relation to the significant amount of material
hosted overseas; such material "is filtered from parts of
the public estate"
(the Government has prioritised schools and some libraries).
The filtering can currently be circumvented by users changing
their desktop settings; the Government is considering how they
can "further restrict access to illegal terrorist material
(potentially at the network level), further aligning with the
36. The evidence notes inconsistencies in approach
among internet companies. "Whilst engaging with industry
to ensure that their own acceptable use policies are being applied
rigorously, we are also considering the Home Affairs Select Committee
recommendation of establishing a code of conduct for internet
companies, distinct from their own terms and conditions, to improve
the response to terrorist material (e.g. including 'terrorism'
as a category under unacceptable use)."
37. There is clearly a need to obtain wider international
consensus and cooperation in relation to combating criminally
obscene adult material and terrorist material and we urge the
Government to use all the influences it can bring to bear to bring
this about within a transparent, legal framework.
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