Government response |
The Government is pleased to respond to conclusions
and recommendations set out in the Committee's Report on Online
Safety published on 19 March 2014.
Protecting children and vulnerable people online
remains a priority for the Government and we continue to work
closely with a range of stakeholders including law enforcement,
charities, and industry, to ensure the UK remains at the forefront
in this important area. Overall, Government's policy when it comes
to addressing the internet is clear - where something is illegal
offline it is illegal online.
A number of the Committee's recommendations are aimed
directly at independent organisations and while Government will
continue to work closely with them, these are recommendations
which are outside of Government's remit to deliver.
Addressing your conclusions and recommendations directly
we are pleased to provide the following response, which comprises
contributions from a number of Government Departments.
1. 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.
The United Kingdom is a world leader in the fight against child
abuse images. The laws in these areas are rightly robust and clear.
They are respected internationally and apply equally to material
online and offline. They have stood the test of time against a
background of rapidly developing new technology.
These laws are effective and are well understood
by legal practitioners, the courts and the police. The Government
is unaware of any evidence to suggest there is a need further
to amend these laws in the manner suggested. Whilst they are kept
under constant review the Government has no current plans to consolidate
2. 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.
The UK already works closely with EU member states and other international
partners in combating online crime and the protection of children
The UK signed the Council of Europe's Convention
on the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation and Sexual
Abuse in 2008 (the Lanzarote Convention). Home Office officials
are completing their assessment of what needs to be done under
domestic legislation and other arrangements to ensure full compliance
and will complete that work this year. In addition to work on
the Convention, the Government has set out a comprehensive programme
to tackle sexual violence in the action plan of the Sexual Violence
Against Children and Vulnerable People National Group.
The Government strongly supports the Budapest Convention
on Cybercrime. We ratified it in 2011, and have supported the
promotion of the Convention and the work to build global capacity
to tackle cybercrime, that the Council of Europe is leading.
3. 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
As part of the National Crime Agency (NCA), the Child Exploitation
and Online Protection (CEOP) Command has access to extensive specialist
resources to deal with complex cases of child sexual exploitation
and abuse. We welcome that the Select Committee recognised this
as a "game-changer". Every one of the NCA's 4500 officers
has a legal duty to safeguard children and promote child welfare.
Staff can be deployed from across the Agency to meet operational
needs including for detection of online paedophiles. The NCA
also work with other law enforcement agencies such as the police
to track down offenders.
Since the creation of the NCA, CEOP has benefited
from the support of its specialist functions such as the National
Cyber Crime Unit (NCCU) and the local knowledge of officers stationed
in over 40 countries. This has allowed the UK's child protection
expertise to be deployed more effectively overseas in areas targeted
In a recent operation, four individuals were sentenced
to a total of 20 years' imprisonment in Bahrain, following an
investigation by the NCA in partnership with Surrey Police and
Bahraini authorities. The men were found guilty of a range of
sexual offences against children involving online extortion.
As a result of the operation over 200 children have been safeguarded.
Operations such as this one give a clear message regarding the
work our law enforcement agencies do in partnership with other
countries to tackle online paedophiles. This in turn acts as
a deterrent to others.
Work is also underway to develop a national image
database that will hold images seized by the police. This will
help police in different parts of the country work together more
effectively to close the net on paedophiles, and safeguard victims.
4. 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.
As part of the NCA, CEOP command is continuing its education
and social care work, such as its 'Think U Know' campaign, which
has already attracted over 16m hits on its website. In line with
the Crime and Courts Act 2013, the NCA will publish a report annually
on the exercise of its functions during that year. This Annual
Report will include reporting on the full range of the Agency's
activity to tackle child abuse.
5. 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.
The Government supports this recommendation, and believes that
organisations have a responsibility to take steps to identify
those individuals who seek such imagery. Compliance by organisations
with the UK's data protection laws ensure that the correct balance
is maintained between protecting the privacy of the law-abiding
majority and tackling child abuse and other illegal material online.
6. 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.
The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) is an independent, industry-funded
self-regulatory body. We welcome the Internet Watch Foundation's
decision to embark on proactive searching for online child abuse
images. Following the Internet Summit where this was agreed, the
MOU between the IWF and the Crown Prosecution Service and Association
of Chief Police Officers was updated to reflect the IWF's new
Government will continue to work with the IWF to
ensure children are protected, for instance we are engaging with
them on a project, together with the CEOP Command and industry,
with the aim of preventing the distribution of torrent files which
enable the download of child sexual abuse images.
7. 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.
Working with the private sector is an important part of the Government's
approach to tackling online child abuse. Industry has already
done significant work to tackle indecent images, through their
support of the Internet Watch Foundation and through blocking
illegal images hosted outside the UK.
At the Prime Minister's summit with internet industry
representatives on 18 November 2013 Microsoft and Google announced
that they had introduced a number of changes to their search function,
not only in the UK, but across the world and National Crime Agency
testing of the new measures shows that child abuse images, videos
or pathways are no longer being returned against a blacklist of
search terms at present.
The changes introduced by the search engines include:
introduction of new algorithms that will block child abuse images,
videos and pathways that lead to illegal content, covering 100,000
unique searches on Google worldwide
auto-complete features from offering people child abuse search
and Microsoft will now work with the National Crime Agency and
the Internet Watch Foundation to bring forward a plan to tackle
peer to peer networks featuring child abuse images
will bring forward new technology that will put a unique identification
mark on illegal child abuse videos, which will mean all copies
are removed from the web once a single copy is identified.
We will ensure monitoring is carried out to check
the continued effectiveness of these changes. The Government is
also setting up a pilot project with the Internet Watch Foundation,
NCA CEOP Command, Google and Microsoft, with the aim of removing,
from search results, torrent URLs claiming either in the title
or in associated text to provide access to illegal child sexual
8. 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.
We are grateful for the Committee's support for the Government's
proposals to extend the extreme pornography offence.
9. 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.
The UK Government is a world-leader in online child safety and
is committed to raising these issues on the international stage
- for instance we are planning a summit for December to drive
international action to tackle illegal images.
The Government is also committed to working through
existing international forums to tackle violence against women
and girls to raise opportunities for further action with key international
The UK has the Terrorism Acts 2000 and 2006 as the
legal basis for taking action against illegal terrorist content
online. The Government plays a full and active part in international
discussions about combating terrorist material online; is improving
cooperation with the internet industry and seeks to be open and
clear regarding the legal basis for UK domestic action against
illegal terrorist content.
10. We believe that the existing obscenity laws
already proscribe the publication of adult material in ways that
make it readily available to children. However, we are concerned
that no prosecutions have been brought despite the proliferation
of pornography sites which make no attempt to restrict access
by children. We welcome the Government's declared intention to
legislate to clarify the law in this area. However, in the meantime,
we urge the prosecuting authorities to use the existing law to
crack down on the worst offenders in order to put pressure on
all suppliers of hardcore pornography to make greater efforts
to ensure that such material is accessible only by adults.
Government's response to recommendations 10 and 11 is below.
The Government will legislate shortly to ensure that
video-on-demand material that would be rated R18 by the British
Board of Film Classification (BBFC) is put behind access controls
and to ban the provision of material that would not receive any
classification by the BBFC. This will ensure that we have the
same level of protection for hard-copy and on-demand material
based in the UK which is rated R18.We will work with the police
and the Crown Prosecution Service to strengthen the enforcement
of these laws (recommendation 10).
The UK already works closely with member states across
the EU in the development of child internet safety measures, as
part of the EU Commission's Safer Internet Programme (recommendation
11). This programme provides advice to parents, professionals
and children, as well as providing a hotline to report illegal
material. There also is an agreement though the Audio Visual Media
Services Directive (AVMSD) that material which might seriously
impair minors must not be broadcast at all and must be put behind
access controls on video-on-demand platforms.
The UK Government will continue to actively engage
in any revisions to the AVMSD and will work to find a common standard
throughout the EU for the classification of material that might
We have also engaged intensively with industry to
introduce measures that will help parents protect their children
from accessing inappropriate material online. The four main ISPs
all now provide family friendly network level domestic filtering
which allows parents to prevent their children from accessing
potentially harmful content. We continue to look at ways in which
our policies can be strengthened and are considering whether there
are further measures which would help to protect children from
11. The Government should seek agreement with
other European Union Member States to ban on demand programme
services that make pornography readily available to children.
We further urge the Government to engage with other international
partners, particularly the USA, with the aim of securing a similar
outcome more widely.
12. We believe that, as part of its existing media
literacy duties, Ofcom has an important role in monitoring internet
content and advising the public on online safety. However, we
are anxious to avoid suggesting a significant extension of formal
content regulation of the internet. Among the unintended consequences
this could have would be a stifling of the free flow of ideas
that lies at the heart of internet communication.
We welcome the Committee's acknowledgement that content regulation
of the internet could give rise to unintended consequences such
as stifling the free flow of ideas and expression that lies at
the heart of the development of the internet. The UK Government
defends strongly the successful record of the multi-stakeholder
model of internet governance where government joins stakeholders
from the private sector, civil society and technical community
on an equal footing.
We agree that Ofcom delivers an important role, through
its existing media literacy duties and particularly through its
annual Children and Parents; Media Use and Attitudes Report, to
raise awareness of the ways in which parents and children approach
issues related to online safety.
13. Providers of adult content on the internet
should take all reasonable steps to prevent children under 18
from accessing inappropriate and harmful content. Such systems
may include, but will not necessarily be restricted to, processes
to verify the age of users.
The Government agrees with the Committee that content providers,
including those providing adult content, have a key role to play
in improved age verification processes. Under the umbrella of
the UK Council for Child Internet Safety (UKCCIS), which brings
together a broad range of industry, law enforcement, charities
and others with an interest in child internet safety, industry
bodies are working together to consider potential age-verification
14. We have no reason to suppose that Nominet
has either the resources or inclination to police the internet.
Age verification, while ideal, is not the only way of preventing
children from accessing unsuitable content. However, we believe
that no .uk site should offer unimpeded access to adult pornography
to children. This should be made a condition of registration.
We welcome the Committee's view that Nominet is not an appropriate
body to police content on the internet. Following recommendations
made by Lord Macdonald in his Review of .uk Registration Policy
Report, Nominet recently amended their terms and conditions of
registration to expressly prohibit any .uk domains being used
to carry out criminal activity, whether that is related to pornography,
fraud, or any other crime. This helps them to act quickly to suspend
a domain name when alerted to its use for criminal activity by
the police or other law enforcement agencies. Given this general
prohibition, Nominet does not consider it necessary to highlight
any specific laws that must not be broken in the conditions of
15. Site blocking is highly unlikely to be a suitable
approach for adult pornography or violent material much of which
is legal (at least if it is unavailable to minors) and which is
prevalent on the internet. However, blocking should be considered
as a last resort for particularly harmful adult websites that
make no serious attempt to hinder access by children.
Government agrees with the Committee that site blocking, while
entirely appropriate when it comes to illegal child abuse content,
is unlikely to be a suitable approach to restricting access to
legal material on the internet. Rather, we believe that the development
and implementation of measures that help parents keep their children
safe online, such as the free and easy to use family-friendly
network-level parental controls which have been introduced by
the four largest ISPs and which include age-verification processes,
filtered public Wi-Fi where children are likely to be, filtered
mobile phones and raising parents awareness of the risks that
exist online is a more effective approach to minimising children's
access to such content. As noted in response to Recommendation
10 in respect of video-on-demand (VOD) material, Government intends
to legislate shortly to ensure that VOD content that would be
rated R18 by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) is
put behind access controls and to ban the provision of material
that would not receive any classification by the BBFC.
16. We welcome the introduction of whole home
filtering solutions that prompt account holders with a choice
to apply them. We encourage all internet service providers to
offer their customers this valuable service. Ofcom should monitor
the implementation of this filtering and report back on its level
of success and adoption.
Government welcomes the Committee's endorsement of the introduction
of family-friendly network-level parental control tools and would
like to acknowledge the efforts of the four largest Internet Service
Providers (ISPs) BT, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin Media, who together
constitute almost 90% of the UK's broadband market, in implementing
We agree that other ISPs with domestic customers
should consider offering parental control tools and we have been
working with the Internet Service Providers Associate (ISPA) to
encourage them to do so. We understand a number of the other
providers are currently actively working on the development of
such tools and we look forward to these being rolled out over
the coming year.
Ofcom is currently working with the four largest
ISPs on a report, which we expect to be published in the coming
months, on how far the ISPs have delivered on the commitments
they have made on introduce family-friendly internet tools. In
addition, Government asked Ofcom to oversee this work, to judge
how well the ISPs are doing and to report back regularly.
17. We value the UK games industry and the many
educational and recreational benefits it provides to children.
As filtering technologies continue to develop, as they should,
we trust parents will be empowered to provide the supervision
they want of what games their children play and when.
Clearly many games are specifically designed for children and
can offer them rich, rewarding and sometimes educational experiences.
Over 50% of games submitted to the UK's Games Rating Authority
in 2012 were classified as suitable for young children.
We know many parents value a range of advice and
tools which they find helpful in managing their children's access
to video games content. This may include labels on individual
games showing their age-suitability and content (such as PEGI
ratings), parental controls that can work with games ratings to
restrict access, or that prevent in-game purchasing or that can
be set to limit the amount of time that children spend playing
We welcome the video games industry's interest in
taking part in the dialogue about filters and we are pleased to
see that they have joined UKCISS working group on over-blocking.
18. We agree that the availability and performance
of filtering solutions must be closely monitored, both for efficacy
and the avoidance of over-blocking. It should also be easy for
websites inadvertently blocked to report the fact and for corrective
action to be taken.
Government agrees with the Committee that websites which are inadvertently
filtered should have a simple reporting route through which this
can be addressed.
A UKCCIS Working Group, Chaired by Dave Miles of
the Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI) and including representation
by the ISPs, charities and content providers has been set up to
consider this issue.
The four largest ISPs each has in place processes
for customers or site owners to inform them of sites which may
have been either inappropriately classified or inadvertently filtered.
However, the Working Group is looking at the opportunities for
a centralised process and common procedures across the ISPs which
are easy to understand and use.
19. Websites that provide adult content should
signal the fact clearly to enable filters better to take effect.
A failure on the part of the operators of such sites to do so
should be a factor in determining what measures should be taken
Government agrees that it is likely that more could be done by
content producers to improve the accuracy of metadata to enable
filters to take better effect.
20. Filters are clearly a useful tool to protect
children online. Ofcom should continue to monitor their effectiveness
and the degree to which they can be circumvented.
Government agrees with the Committee that Ofcom plays a valuable
role, through its Media Use and Attitude Report, in reporting
on parents' and children's experiences of using, and circumventing,
filters. Government also notes the Committee's acknowledgement
that, as published in Ofcom's Children and Parents: Media Use
and Attitudes Report in October last year, and in its report on
Internet Safety Measures: Strategies of Parental Protection for
Children Online of January this year, while 18% of online children
aged 12-15 say they know how to disable online filters or controls
only 6% report that they have done so. Government awaits with
interest Ofcom's 2014 Media Use and Attitudes Report, and notes
that the report also monitors a range of other important parental
mediation strategies such as communication and rules.
21. We welcome the introduction of ParentPort
but believe Ofcom should seek to promote and improve it further.
For example, more use could be made of it to collect data on complaints
concerning children's access to adult material.
Government's response to recommendations 21, 22 and 31 is
We are aware that Ofcom and the other regulators
involved with ParentPort are considering how the website could
be developed to benefit as many parents and carers as possible.
Following the Prime Minister's speech in July last year, the four
largest ISPs have been working together to develop a large-scale
parental awareness campaign, 'Internet Matters'. This aims to
encourage parents to learn about the risks that exist when children
are online, talk to their children and actively deal with issues
that arise, with the tag-line "Learn about it. Talk about
it. Deal with it". This launched in May 2014and directs
parents to a range of existing sites of help and advice, including
ParentPort; this may help promote the site and raise parents'
awareness that the site exists to help them make a complaint in
relation to inappropriate content (recommendation 21).
While ParentPort does also now include a wide range
of advice for parents and carers to help them keep children safe
when they are online, including when using social networking sites,
it does not gather data on the speed and effectiveness of social
media providers' responses to complaints. We understand that
Ofcom intends to review ParentPort to make it as helpful as possible
for users and Ofcom may wish to consider the recommendations of
the Committee as part of that review (recommendation 31).
Government agrees with the Committee's view that
Ofcom has a key role to play in relation to a range of internet
safety issues, including reporting on the effectiveness of filters.
As the Committee sets out, there are parts of the Children and
Parents: Media Use and Attitudes Report which cover some of these
areas, including children's reporting of online content that is
nasty, worrying or offensive. Moreover, Ofcom will be publishing
the second of two Internet Safety Measures reports looking at
parents' take up, confidence in and awareness of parental control
tools including filters, expected in December 2014 (recommendation
Government agrees with the Committee's view that
developing a body of research and evidence in relation to a range
of internet safety issues, including complaints levelled against
social media providers would be helpful. We encourage Ofcom to
consider this. The UKCCIS also has an Evidence and Research Working
Group which looks at the research and evidence available in this
area; Government will consider, through that group, what further
research would be helpful. Ofcom is a member of that group.
22. We further recommend that Ofcom regularly
reports on children's access to age-restricted material, particularly
adult pornography and the effectiveness of filters and age verification
measures. Ofcom is well-placed to fulfil this role given the work
it does on its Children and Parents: Media Use and Attitudes Report.
23. We note comments on the state of, and access
to, sex and relationships education. We are aware this is a politically
contested subject but believe the Government should take into
account the views of the young people who gave evidence to us
of the value and importance of good quality mandatory sex and
relationship education as policy develops. In the meantime, teachers
have many opportunities to use their professional judgement in
advising children both on online safety and on respect for each
other. We believe there is scope for providing teachers with clearer
signposting of the advice and educational resources that are already
We have recently revised the statutory safeguarding guidance
for all schools and colleges: 'Keeping Children Safe in Education'.
In it we have made it clear to schools their responsibilities
to safeguard children, including online, and ensure that they
are safe. This may include using opportunities as part of a broad
and balanced curriculum to promote children's welfare - for example
through personal, social, health and economic education (PSHE)
and sex and relationship education (SRE). In the document we have
also signposted schools to sources of advice, such as that provided
by NSPCC, on specific safeguarding issues. Also, in recognition
that children are increasingly accessing the internet from an
early age the new computing curriculum includes online safety
content at all key stages ensuring that for the first time, primary
school pupils will also be taught about online safety.
Schools will welcome the new supplementary advice,
'Sex and relationships education (SRE) for the 21st century',
recently published by the PSHE Association, the Sex Education
Forum, and Brook. This addresses changes in technology and legislation
since 2000, in particular equipping teachers to help protect children
and young people from inappropriate online content, and from online
bullying, harassment and exploitation.
In addition, the CEO at the PSHE Association has
agreed to act as chair and set up a new expert subject group on
PSHE education and SRE to support teachers. It will clarify the
key areas on which teachers most need further support, and identify
the topics that can present the greatest challenge during discussions
with pupils. He is keen to ensure that the expert group includes
young people's involvement.
24. Any changes to legislation, including consolidation
of current laws, which clarify the status of bullying, whether
off-line or online, would be welcome. At the same time, much could
be achieved by the timely introduction of improved guidance on
the interpretation of existing laws.
It is of course the case that what is illegal offline, is illegal
online. As the Committee notes, there is a wide range of offences
that could cover bullying behaviour depending on the nature of
it and the circumstances under which it takes place.
These laws are effective and are well understood
by practitioners and the police and appropriately interpreted
and enforced by the courts in relation to both on-line and off-line
conduct. As things stand, the Government is not aware of any evidence
to suggest the need for further clarification in this area and
whilst the laws are kept under constant review, the Government
has no current plans to consolidate them.
25. Both Facebook and Twitter have sensible terms
and conditions attaching to the use of their services. However,
these should be made much clearer, explicit and visible. People
who might be tempted to misuse social media need to be left in
no doubt that abuses online are just as unacceptable as similar
26. Given that Facebook and Twitter are aware
of the extent to which their services are accessed by younger
children, we expect them to pay greater attention to factoring
this into the services provided, the content allowed and the access
to both. The same applies to other social media companies in a
27. Twitter told us that users can mark their
own tweets as sensitive which by default means a warning message
is posted to anyone wishing to view these. This is a good reminder
that self-restraint and self-regulation are crucial aspects of
any enforcement regime in the online world.
28. In spite of reassuring words from Facebook
and Twitter, it is clear that these platforms, in common with
other social media providers, could do far more to signal the
unacceptability of abuse and to stamp it out when it arises.
29. Social media providers should follow the examples
of Facebook and Twitter in having appropriate terms and conditions.
We believe there is significant scope for such providersincluding
Facebook and Twitterto enforce such conditions with greater
30. Social media providers should offer a range
of prominently displayed options for, and routes to, reporting
harmful content and communications. They need to act on these
reports much more quickly and effectively, keeping the complainant
andwhere appropriatethe subject of the complaints
informed of outcomes and actions.
The Government notes that recommendations 25, 26, 27, 28, 29,
30 and 32 are aimed at social media companies.
The Government has been clear that we expect social
media companies to respond quickly to incidents of abusive behaviour
on their networks. Social media companies have responsibilities
to their users and it is important that they consider what they
will do in future as they are best placed to develop solutions
and keep abreast of new usage and challenges. We would also echo
the Committee's call for social media companies to give greater
consideration to the fact that children may be using their services.
We will continue to talk to the industry about these issues and
what more might be done to protect people when they are online.
31. Ofcom should monitor and report on complaints
it receives, perhaps via an improved ParentPort, regarding the
speed and effectiveness of response to complaints by different
social media providers.
32. We believe it is in the interests of social
media platforms, if they wish to avoid a more regulatory approach,
to put their money where their mouths are and provide more funding
for the valuable work being done on internet safety by voluntary
organisations and charities.
33. A good deal of advice on the safe use of social
media is available already. This should be signposted more clearly
for teachers, who are likely to be in the front line when it comes
to dealing with bullying both in the playground and in the online
The Department for Education (DfE) clarified its advice on preventing
and tackling bullying in 2011, reducing it from 481 pages to 13
to make it more accessible to teachers. The document provides
links to specialist organisations that provide advice on bullying
and cyberbullying. This includes the DfE funded guide produced
by the Anti-Bullying Alliance on cyber-bullying which focuses
on children with special educational needs and disabilities. Schools
will also welcome the new supplementary advice, 'Sex and relationships
education (SRE) for the 21st century', published recently by the
PSHE Association, the Sex Education Forum, and Brook. This addresses
changes in technology and legislation since 2000, in particular
equipping teachers to help protect children and young people from
inappropriate online content, and from online bullying, harassment