Fifteen times more child sexual abuse material found online than 10 years ago

The online safety organisation the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), said its analysts were facing a “tidal wave” of abuse material. It called on the government to ensure the online safety bill, intended to improve internet safety, was used to protect children.

IWF figures show that this year it has acted against a record amount of more than 200,000 websites containing child sexual abuse material. That is 15 times more than in 2011, when there were just over 13,000 reports of abusive content.

Susie Hargreaves, the charity’s chief executive, said while major improvements in detection technology and the hiring of more analysts had helped uncover more criminal material, it remained a growing problem.

“I took up my position as chief executive of the IWF in 2011 and, since then, we have seen a truly mammoth increase in the amount of this harmful, hurtful material available freely on the open web. We’ve more than tripled the number of analysts at the IWF in that time,” she said.

“In 2014 we were given the ability to proactively search for this material, which was a gamechanger for us, making us unique among non-law-enforcement bodies. But the sad fact is, the problem has outpaced the efforts around the world. We’re continuing to build world-class technology which helps us, and companies globally, to tackle this criminality, but it’s the work of our human analysts which really sets the IWF apart.”

She added that the figures highlighted why it was so important that the government placed the protection of children on the internet at the centre of the proposed online safety bill, its planned regulation for the tech sector.

“Our analysts, every day, are holding back a tidal wave of criminal material, preventing it from spreading even further online, and stopping criminals from sharing the horrendous abuse of innocent children. This is why the role we play in the online safety regulation is so important. We need to see real action now to halt this rise.

“The new online safety bill is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make sure children’s safety is front and centre, and that our digital future is built around a core of measures to protect children.”

The minister in charge of the new law regulating behaviour online, Nadine Dorries, told social media bosses last week to “remove your harmful algorithms” or face swift criminal prosecution.

Dorries said she had been working with officials to make the proposed online safety bill tougher to tackle tech firms, which she said “have the ability to put right what they’re doing wrong now”. The plans include accelerating controversial measures that could see tech executives facing jail.

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Sarah Marsh