IWF By Matthew Jones
The United States and Russia host the bulk of the world's child abuse Web sites, according to a British-based Internet monitoring group which identifies the UK as one of the countries with the best enforcement records.
The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) reported on Tuesday that just over half (51 percent) of child abuse content was traced back to the United States and 20 percent to Russia.
This compared with just 0.2 percent of potentially illegal content that appears to be hosted in Britain, down from 18 percent in 1997.
"The UK has benefited from a concerted effort from the online industry which has sought to take down these Web sites and from the authorities which have demonstrated a determination to tackle the problem," said the IWF's Peter Robbins.
"In Britain, hosts are told about content and told to take it down. Additionally the government has done its part in bringing in tough legislation," the group's chief executive told Reuters.
New laws enacted in 2003 introduced the application of reverse burden of proof -- people have to prove they are innocent if they have downloaded obscene material.
The British authorities were also very active in arresting and prosecuting individuals as part of Operation Ore, an international police operation targeting viewers of child abuse images.
That the United States has such a high proportion of abuse Web sites is partly attributed to the fact the country has a large number of Internet users, servers and ISPs.
The enforcement approach also differs from the British model. In the United States law enforcement officials prefer to track down the people behind the Web sites by leaving them live for a period. In contrast, British police shut down the Web sites first and then track down the perpetrators using computer records.
Robbins said the problem in Russia was a lack of any centralized authority to take ownership of the problem. He said there was no hotline that people could use to report Web sites.
In total, more than 31,000 sites with abusive material have been removed since 1996 when the IWF was set up, but challenges remain.
The growth of pay-per-view sites was worrying because they tend to be more technologically sophisticated and keep moving around the world to avoid being shut down. They also often host the most extreme images.
"Some of these Web sites have been bragging about how they have been around since 1995/1996. We have got to track them down and then shut them down," Robbins said.
Copyright 2006 Reuters Limited.
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