For Child Pornography & Illegal Material on the Internet

An Industry proposal

Adopted and Recommended by

Executive Committee of ISPA - Internet Services Providers Association
LINX - London Internet Exchange
The Safety-Net Foundation

23 September 1996

Introduction | Principles | Approach | The Proposers


  1. This paper presents an industry proposal for addressing the question of illegal material on the Internet, with particular reference to child pornography. It presents a package of measures developed by key players from the Internet Service Providers Association (ISPA), the London Internet Exchange (LINX) and the Safety-Net Foundation. The paper puts forward industry proposals developed in discussions facilitated by DTI between service providers, the Metropolitan Police and the Home Office.

  2. The potential for exploiting the Internet to inform, educate, entertain and conduct business on a worldwide scale is enormous. At a relatively modest cost, vast quantities of information can be sent around the world in new multi-media communications. The proportion of illegal material on the Internet is in relative terms, very small. The benefits of the Internet far outweigh its negative aspects. Nevertheless, these aspects cannot be ignored; they are pressing issues of public, parliamentary, commercial and legal interest. Consumers and businesses must be reassured that the internet is a safe and secure place to work, learn and play.

  3. The immediate and particular focus of these proposals is on child pornography, though the approach may also be applicable in the future to other types of illegal material available on the Internet. The proposers are adamant in their desire to remove child pornography from the Internet.

  4. The package of measures proposed is coherent and is addressed to a range of key technical and policy issues. This a starting point, not a final solution. A number of detailed technical issues remain to be explored, but this is a beginning. No single approach, in a single country can entirely 'solve' the problem, but there is much that can be done. These proposals take the first concrete step for the UK industry, providing a platform on which the industry can build further.

  5. The principles of these proposals have been adopted and are recommended by the Executive Committee of ISPA, by the LINX and by the Safety-Net Foundation. Working groups in ISPA and in LINX will work with Safety-Net to establish any technological or legal limitations arising from these proposals and to explore appropriate implementation vehicles. All responsible service providers, inside and outside these organisations are encouraged to support and adopt this package of measures. The time for action is now.


  6. "R3 Safety-Net " is based upon a number of simple principles.

    The Internet is not a Legal Vacuum

  7. In general, the law applies to activities on the Internet as it does to activity not on the Internet. If something is illegal "off-line" it will also be illegal "on-line", and vice versa. Responsible service providers wish to see that the law can be upheld on-line as well as off-line. A clear liability to prosecution exists in UK law in relation to child pornography on the Internet, for example.

    Free Speech not Censorship

  8. The issue addressed has nothing to do with censorship of legal material or free speech. The issue is how to deal with material or activity which society, through democratic process, has deemed to be unacceptable in law. The core issue is crime. Legal, but possibly offensive, material raises a quite separate issue. Here consumers should have the technological means to tailor the nature of their, or their family's, experience on the Internet according to their individual standards; thus supporting both individual responsibility and the Internet's traditions of diversity and free speech.


  9. Service providers must take a responsible approach to the provision of services. They need to implement reasonable, practicable and proportionate measures to hinder the use of the Internet for illegal purposes, and to provide a response mechanism in cases where illegal material or activity is identified. Service providers should not be asked to take responsibility for enforcement of the law. End users should retain responsibility for the content they place on the Internet. The Police should retain responsibility for enforcement.

    Self Protection

  10. By taking appropriate measures, across the industry, service providers can offer protection to the end user and to themselves. All responsible service providers wish to hinder the availability of child pornography, and to see it removed from the Internet. This clearly protects the public. Establishing a common understanding of what steps constitute a reasonable, practicable and proportionate approach can also provide a defence for service providers against prosecution on charges of knowingly permitting services to be used for the distribution of illegal material.

    Establishment & Jurisdiction

  11. The law that determines what material or activity is illegal is the law of the country in which the consumer is affected by it. These proposals relate to service providers offering access to the Internet in the UK. They are designed to avoid any extraterritorial effect. Service providers established in the UK will take the UK law as the relevant standard for their UK operation - whatever the source of the material. However, measures adopted by service providers established in the UK can only address the problem at source if the material or activity was initiated by their UK subscribers. It is hoped that similar approaches can be established in other countries to extend the protection afforded across the whole of the Internet.


  12. The "R3 Safety-Net " approach incorporates three key elements:


  13. The approach establishes an independent foundation to support the adoption, by Internet service providers and users, of Responsible policies based on Rating and Reporting of illegal material. It gives priority in the first instance to child pornography, but may also be applicable to other forms of illegal material in the future. The approach also supports the rating of legal material so that users can tailor the nature of their experience on the Internet, according to their own standards.

    The Safety Net Foundation

  14. The Safety-Net Foundation has been established, and offers itself to fulfil an independent role in receiving and processing complaints about child pornography (and other illegal material) on the Internet; and to support the development of rating systems.

    The Rating Service

  15. The Foundation will provide a legality indicator, or rating, for the 'normal content' of each Usenet news group. The rating will indicate whether the group normally contains illegal material and what sort of illegality is involved (child pornography, copyright infringement etc.…).

  16. As a separate activity, the Foundation also intends to assist in, or sponsor, the classification of legal material, to enable users to make use of PICS enabled tools to customise the nature of their experience on the Internet according to their own standards.

    The Hot-Line Service

  17. The Foundation will establish a hot-line to accept complaints about material which is accessible to the public, from anyone via automated telephone, mail, email or fax. These complaints will be converted into a standardised form and immediately forwarded to participating service providers and other appropriate bodies. A similar approach has been taken in Holland, where it appears to work well, and which has been endorsed by the first World Congress against the commercial sexual exploitation of Children, Stockholm 27-31 August 1996.

  18. The Foundation will verify whether complaints are justified using standardised checklist criteria. In effect, the hot-line will provide a rating of legality for individual news group articles, or web pages, in response to complaints.

    The Notification Service

  19. In the case of illegal material originated within the UK the Foundation would attempt to trace the source, inform the authors of the position under UK law, and request that they remove the offending material. Where co-operation is not forthcoming the Foundation will request action from the relevant Service Provider and pass details to the Police National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS). Confirmation of action will be reported to the complainant.

  20. Where the material originates outside the UK the Foundation will pass available details to the foreign service provider, where they can be identified, and to NCIS, who will liaise with the Police force in the appropriate jurisdiction.

    Other Services

  21. The Foundation will also sponsor research and development into ways of improving the detection, traceability and removal of illegal material on the Internet.


  22. The Safety-Net Foundation will seek funding through service provider trade associations - in particular, ISPA and LINX - and through other bodies supporting the removal of child pornography (and other illegal material) from the Internet. All responsible service providers in the UK are encouraged to support and fund the Foundation. Start-up funding of up to £500,000 has been made available by the Dawe Charitable Trust.

    Responsible Service Provider Policies

  23. The Safety-Net Foundation takes responsibility for establishing a rating and reporting service for illegal material. This has to be complemented by responsibility on the part of users for the material they place on the Internet and by responsible service provider policies in order to have the desired effect. In particular, policies on the rating of material by users, on removal of child pornography and on tracing the originators of illegal material are required. These issues are of greatest urgency in relation to World-Wide-Web (WWW or W3) pages and Usenet news groups. Other policies may need to be developed and extended over time.

    Policies for Word Wide Web Pages

  24. The "R3 Safety-Net" approach endorses the Platform for Internet Content Selection (PICS) and the RSACi rating scheme for W3 pages. "R3 Safety-Net" recommends that Service providers:

  25. PICS is an open industry standard, which has been, or is being implemented by both major web browser developers and by developers of other leading access control software. RSACi provides a PICS-based rating scheme, which provides a framework to classify content according to Language, Nudity, Sex and Violence.

  26. These measures interface with the service provided by the Safety-Net Foundation aimed at illegal material. In addition, they further provide the means by which Internet users can protect themselves and their families from exposure to material which, while legal, they find offensive.

    Policies for Usenet News groups

  27. The approach extends the PICS standard to Usenet news groups and recommends that service providers should:

  28. These measures will interface with both the Safety-Net Foundation's legality ratings for the normal content of news groups, and with the ratings provided by users for material they have placed on the Internet. In keeping with the principle that users should be remain responsible for the material they post, "R3 Safety-Net" considers that in the long-term, users should be encouraged to rate their news group articles as they post them. The approach of using ratings for the 'normal' content of groups, whether supplied by the Safety Net Foundation or by other sources, is proposed as a first step. It will assist both users and service providers in understanding the nature of material withinthese groups, and help to inform responsible actions towards them.

    Policies on Traceability

  29. A key aspect of the "R3 Safety-Net" approach is that it attempts to ensure that users take responsibility for material they post on the Internet. To this end, it is important to be able to trace the originators of child pornography and other illegal material. In this context, the anonymity that it is possible to achieve through some services can be abused to mask the identity of the perpetrator.

  30. Anonymity itself can serve a useful purpose in a number of contexts. However, the abuse of anonymity in posting illegal material is a problem which has to be addressed. Allowing users to have truly anonymous (i.e.: untraceable) accounts is a danger, while providing services which create pseudonyms which remain traceable if necessary, is not. It is therefore recommended that service providers should:

    Development of Policies on other Issues

  31. The nature of the problem of child pornography and illegal material on the Internet will evolve over time. The "R3 Safety-Net " approach recognises this and recommends that service providers should continue to work, through their trade associations, with the Safety-Net Foundation, with the Police, Governments and with other interested groups. This may establish a need from time to time, to adapt existing policies or to introduce additional policies to cover new services.

    The Proposers

  32. This is an industry proposal which all responsible service providers are encouraged to support and adopt. Brief detail on those behind these proposals is given below.

    Executive Committee of ISPA

  33. ISPA is a recently established trade association representing the interests of the Internet industry. It aims to offer members the chance to participate in a growing dialogue with Government, the European Union and other international organisations. The intention is to encourage an open and competitive environment, and to resist anti-competitive policies and practices. ISPA currently has 60 members made up of access providers, Internet cafes and other enterprises associated with the Internet.

    The London Internet Exchange (LINX)

  34. The London Internet Exchange (www.linx.net) is a not-for-profit association representing the 28 largest Internet Service Providers in the UK. Since Oct 1994 it has been managing the hub at which they connect their networks together to exchange UK Internet traffic. Its members all operate their own International links to the global Internet, and a majority of them provide access services to UK customers.

    The Safety-Net Foundation

  35. The Foundation is the initiative of Peter Dawe, previously the Chairman of Pipex. It will be a not-for-profit company limited by guarantee.

  36. In order to take the "R3 Safety-Net" approach forward, the Foundation will approach other independent parties to form a management board. This could include approaching possible Directors from a range of backgrounds, including child protection groups, the Police and the Internet service provider trade associations. Should the Safety-Net Foundation become self-supporting as envisaged in the "R3 Safety-Net " approach, then it is Mr Dawe's intention to step down as Director.