British Telecom (BT), the largest telecom operator in the UK, has stopped 250,000 attempts to access hardcore child pornography on the Internet in the three weeks since it introduced new Web-site blocking technology.
BT’s figures, which amount to over 10,000 attempts a day, provide the first true indication of the extent of pedophilia on the Web.
The Internet Watch Foundation said the figures reported by BT were staggering. The group, which monitors illegal Internet content, warned that children were being abused in order to supply hardcore images for the Internet.
The exact number of people trying to look at the images on the Internet is unclear, as some may be making repeated attempts. But the true figure is likely to be far higher, since BT is just one of a number of Internet service providers in the UK that people are using to access child pornography Web sites.
BT does not know how many of the attempts are deliberate and how many are due to malware or genuine mistakes.
BT has been working on the concept behind its Clean Feed Web site filtering system since March 2001, according to BT spokesman Jon Carter. “What Clean Feed does is to block access to illegal Web sites that are listed by the Internet Watch Foundation,” Carter told NewsFactor.
“It is essentially a server hosting a very powerful filter, that checks requests for Web sites against the IWF list, and if it finds a positive match, it gives an error message — ‘Web site not found.’ Filtering is easy, as all the server has to do is to match the HTTP Web site address supplied by the customer against the IWF list.”
BT is claiming a world first for Clean Feed. “We don’t think there is anything similar out there,” Carter told NewsFactor. “We will be happy to make the filtering technology available free of charge to other ISPs to help them prevent access to child-pornography Web sites. We are in fact in talks with several ISPs at the moment.”
Paul Goggins, a Minister at the British Government’s Home Office and Labour Member of Parliament for Wythenshawe and Sale East, applauded BT’s efforts, but said he was “deeply shocked” at the high number of attempts to access sites. He urged other companies to take up BT’s offer of help.
Speaking on the BBC Radio 4 Today program, the Minister said: “Every image of a child that appears on the Internet is a picture of a child that has been abused and that must remain firmly fixed in our minds as a key priority for taking the actions that we are determined to take.”
The Minister said the UK government was concerned about online child pornography, and in the Sexual Offences Act had increased penalties for possession of child pornography from six months in jail to five years. “Anybody who accidentally comes on one of these sites will now be blocked,” he told BBC Radio 4 Today. “But anyone who repeatedly tries to access sites may become subject to police investigations and dealt with very firmly.”
Police said the child pornography images available online were “extremely disturbing” and urged other companies to follow BT’s lead in blocking access.
BT is using Clean Feed to prevent its 2.5 million UK Internet customers from viewing child pornography sites. “We use the technology to protect our customers from accessing illegal content,” Carter told NewsFactor. “They would be committing a crime if they downloaded the images from the Internet.”
However, BT does not pass on the name of anyone blocked from accessing a child pornography site. “The reason for this is that Clean Sweep does not give us the names or any other details of who is trying to access child pornography sites,” Carter said. “That is why we can’t be specific about the actual number of people involved. All the technology does is monitor the number of attempts to access specific blocked sites.”
“BT’s child-abuse Web-blocking project is not a complete solution, nor does it pretend to be,” Carter said. “Determined individuals may find ways to get the material they want, on or off the Web, irrespective of the safeguards in this project.
“However, our project will prevent inadvertent or casual access — for example, from search engines — and will, in that sense, take the child abuse sites out of mainstream circulation.”
About the Author
Robert T DeMarco is CEO of IP Group in Herndon VA. IP Group offers software communication tools for use on the Internet. These include: PowerTools, Watch Right, Always on Time and IM Frame. Mr. DeMarco is the author/editor of several Weblogs and is also a member of the High Tech Crimes Industry Association (HTCIA). Mr. DeMarco has university level and corporate training and teaching experience, spent 20 years on Wall Street, acted as CEO of a small software company, and is currently discovering the world of blogging.
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