Eve Salomon, chair of the Internet Watch Foundation

Accepting government funding would threaten the charity's independence, she tells Paul Jump

Eve Salomon
Eve Salomon

Some charities work in areas that are politically neutral, but we don't," says Eve Salomon, chair of the Internet Watch Foundation. "We think accepting government funding would compromise our independence."

The organisation, which seeks to get child sex abuse images removed from the internet, was established as a self-regulatory body in 1996 by the nascent internet industry. Salomon served on its policy board for two years while working for the now defunct Independent Television Commission.

She renewed her association with IWF last year when she became chair of what is now a registered charity. Salomon, who receives "a small honorariam", says the registration in 2005 was a recognition of the fact that the IWF was increasingly serving the public rather than the internet industry, which remains its prime funder.

The IWF also receives EU funding, but refuses handouts from the Government for fear that its independence will be compromised. "It is important to maintain credibility with users and the industry, and to be vibrantly independent," says Salomon.

She sees charitable registration as another bulwark against government interference. Instead of getting involved in tracking down people who post and use child exploitation images, the charity concentrates on getting the images taken down. But Salomon admits the organisation does work closely with law enforcement and child protection agencies, sharing with them information it receives on its anonymous hotline.

The IWF also relies on Home Office guidelines on the potential illegality of online images in order to define the limits of its activity. "There are always questions about extending our remit, but I am not in favour of it," she says. "Clear lines need to be drawn."

When the organisation was set up, it also intended to police sites that incited racial hatred, but a lack of clear guidelines has deterred it from pursuing this aim, Salomon says. "If there were clear guidelines and if funders wanted us to do it we'd have to consider taking it on," she says.

Salomon says the IWF has been a huge success story, reducing the proportion of child abuse imagery hosted in the UK from 18 per cent of the global total to less than 1 per cent. It has also helped set up a network of hotlines in other jurisdictions, but she admits not all of them are very effective. She is unsure whether it is reasonable to ask the UK online industry to fund more international work, but says its initial response has been "remarkably encouraging".

She admits child exploitation images can never be eliminated entirely from cyberspace. "The best we can do is to be extremely disruptive and make the material harder and harder to find," she says. "The child protection authorities say that has an enormous effect on preventing people from becoming paedophiles, and they are the experts."

Topics:
Governance

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