British ISPs Join Battle Against Child Porn

Jun 20, 2013 (09:06 AM EDT)

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Leading U.K. Internet service providers (ISPs) are joining Google in the global fight against online child porn.

Following a government-led summit on child abuse on Tuesday, the four biggest British ISPs -- BT, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin Media -- promised to donate £1 million ($1.6 million) over next four years to help curb the proliferation of child pornography online.

In total, some 20 Internet firms -- including Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft and local ISPs Sky, Vodafone, O2, EE and Three -- attended the meeting, which was chaired by Culture Secretary Maria Miller. The tone of the discussion was set by an article Miller wrote for the Daily Mail, in which she said, "I passionately believe that Internet providers could and should do more to help us prevent these depraved images having a damaging effect on children."

[ Google leads the corporate initiative against child porn. Read Google Launches Attack On Online Child Pornography. ]

Newspaper reports prior to the actual meeting suggested the government intended to advise the assembled organizations of a two-month deadline to come up with detailed plans to combat the spread of child abuse images, a problem recently linked with high-profile abduction and murder cases in the U.K.

However, most observers have concluded that any government expectations of cleansing the Web of pornographic images as a result of the plan are unrealistic and the efforts are inadequate. Labor Opposition described Miller's efforts as "woeful " and the Tory-led government as "weak in standing up to powerful companies" when the safety of children is at stake.

In fact, according to many sources, the meeting did not seem to involve a real dialog. BBC Technology Correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones tweeted, for example, that a company exec at the summit had later described the atmosphere as "fractious" and that the politicians showed a "willful ignorance" of the relevant technical issues.

Still, according to the government, the meeting achieved substantive progress. Miller's department released a statement announcing anti-exploitation police and Internet monitoring services for the first time. "This will mean more images of child sexual abuse will be tracked down and acted against," she said. Government sources also pointed a zero-tolerance pledge signed by all attending companies, who also promised to report within a month on how they can support a new proactive approach against child pornography.

Some critics also question making tech firms take on so much heavy lifting when Miller and her Cabinet have approved plans to cut the budget of the main law enforcement group in the field of anti-child abuse. In February Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre was told it would have to live with 10% budget cuts over the next four years.