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
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- "R3 Safety-Net " is based upon a number of
The Internet is not a Legal Vacuum
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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 "R3 Safety-Net " approach incorporates
three key elements:
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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.
- 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
- 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
- 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.
- The Foundation will also sponsor research and development
into ways of improving the detection, traceability and removal
of illegal material on the Internet.
- 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
- 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
- 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:
- Promote PICS enabled software for accessing the W3.
- Require all their users to rate their own web pages using
- Remove web pages hosted on their servers which are persistently
and deliberately misrated.
- Remove web pages hosted on their servers which are identified
and verified to them as containing child pornography (or other
illegal material); if the users fail to co-operate by removing
- 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.
- 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
- The approach extends the PICS standard to Usenet news groups
and recommends that service providers should:
- Support the development of a new Internet Standard (RFC)
for transmitting ratings for news groups according to their 'normal
content'. (This is currently being developed by Demon Internet
- Support the availability of rating sources for all Usenet
- Modify News Servers to deliver group ratings to end-user software,
when the standard becomes available.
- Promote PICS-enabled news software, when available
- Remove from their servers, within a reasonable time period,
news articles identified and verified to them as containing illegal
- 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
- 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.
- 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
- Work with the Safety-Net Foundation to close known loopholes
and to identify and investigate a range of appropriate measures
to provide facilities for better traceability, including, for
- Provision of audit trails such as X-NNTP-Posting-Host; and
- Reasonable steps which ensure users of "free trials"
can be identified (probably the most significant source of anonymity
which is abused) including, but not limited to: Use of Caller
Line ID, Verification of Credit Card details at start of trial.
- Development of new and better forms of technical counter-measures
- Ensure that anonymous servers (e.g.: re-mailers) that they
operate in the UK record details of identity and make this available
to the Police, when needed, under Section 28.3 of the Data Protection
Development of Policies on other Issues
- 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.
- 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
- 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)
- 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
The Safety-Net Foundation
- The Foundation is the initiative of Peter Dawe, previously
the Chairman of Pipex. It will be a not-for-profit company limited
- 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.