Governments slow to realise Internet Danger

David addressing the conference
David addressing the conference

In his keynote address made at Newcastle Conference of the Internet Watch Foundation, David said the IWF had earned its keep.

He said governments had been slow to realise the dangers that children especially can encounter on the internet.

The Conference was held on 10th November in the Copthorn hotel. This was their 10th anniversary conference and the launch of their new national billboard campaign to raise awareness of the dangers of the internet and on-line child abuse.

He also said the internet was fantastic, a "gateway to information, advice and knowledge". He has had his own website for six years, before most MPs.

David's full address:

Internet Watch Foundation Friday 10 November 2006

The internet is a most fantastic thing, a gateway to information, advice and knowledge, the width and breadth of which knows no boundaries. And so easy to access!

I can remember the good old days, when computers were roughly the same size as the desk they sat on, and you had to boot it up with one disc, and then insert another to run the wretched thing. Nowadays, literally, anyone with a computer and a telephone line has access to facts, figures, and places that previous generations could only dream about.

And the internet knows no boundaries when it comes to age either - young and old can be equally adept at accessing the internet, breaking down geographical boundaries in a way that makes us old internationalists delighted.

But those two defining characteristics - the range of the internet and the ease with which it can be accessed, and by whom - also make the internet a dangerous place for the unwary.

Because running parallel with the development of the internet have also been the technological advances that mean that it is now possible - indeed easy - to take a photograph - and not necessarily on a camera - plug it into a computer and send it round the world in a flash to one, three or three hundred people at the touch of a button.

Great for sharing happy snaps with grandma in Australia; less good when the photos are of abused children.

For the reality is, that behind many on-line images is a child being abused. Behind every on-line chat, is the potential that a child may be speaking to a sex offender.

I think perhaps it is true to say that governments generally were slow to wake up to the dangers that lurk within the internet. Certainly I believe that to be the case, particularly with regard to the use of the internet by those whose focus lies not in "hands over the water" but are bent on doing harm to the vulnerable. And children, naïve and trusting, are amongst the most vulnerable of all.

We're here today to mark the 10th anniversary of the Internet Watch Foundation. I'm pleased to welcome the conference to Newcastle, and I hope that delegates have had the opportunity to explore, even if in a limited way, some of either Newcastle or Gateshead, which you can see over the river here.

But of course, whilst you're enjoying your visit to the area, your underlying cause to be here is a less pleasant one.

I cannot think that there would be much disagreement when I say that child sex abuse is one of the worst crimes conceivable.

Victims are attacked during their most vulnerable years, robbed of their childhood innocence to say nothing of the physical brutalisation.

The effects can, and do, last a lifetime. And this is a crime that goes beyond one depraved individual.

This is a crime from which individual offenders and organised criminal gangs can, and do, profit, the most sickening source of finance imaginable.

The Foundation, here in the UK at any rate, has certainly earned its keep over the past 10 years. Thanks to the Foundation's actions, the number of reported child abuse websites hosted here in the UK has dropped dramatically. Compared with America, where statistics indicate that on-line child abuse web sites are alive and flourishing. International co-operation is essential.

Here in the UK, we know that this crime is like the hydra-headed monster of Greek mythology - cut blood supplies off from one site, and another will spring up. The internet requires constant vigilance and constant monitoring.

But our government has recognised the seriousness of the problem, and has also recognised that modern-day policing cannot, and must not, tackle this hideous crime alone.

And hence government's response to the explosion in on-line child abuse was to set up the Child Exploitation and On-line Protection Centre this April. Bit of a mouthful there, so I'll refer to it as the CEOP Centre in future, although that's not much easier to say either!

The Centre appears to be working well, bringing together law enforcement, specialists from children's charities and industry to work in unison under one roof.

It is early days, of course, but it will not be possible to effectively combat on-line child abuse without working in partnership with other agencies, and the Internet Watch Foundation has to be included in that.

I'd like to conclude my welcome by wishing you well in your deliberations. It seems to me that the internet's freedom to exchange ideas and information quickly and easily is why it can be misused. But the irony is, it is that same rapid interchange of information that offers the key to policing and eradicating on-line abuse.

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Promoted by Ken Childs on behalf of David Clelland, both of 19 Ravensworth Road, Dunston, Gateshead. NE11 9AB