Rating and Reporting presentation

Given 1996-09-10


The summer of 1996 is when the press first woke up to the presence of illegal images on the Internet (there had already been some discussions between the industry, police, and government).

I gave this presentation to the body that became the Internet Crime Forum on 10th September 1996. It is the direct genesis of the Internet Watch Foundation. It was written the previous day following a discussion with Cliff Stanford (the owner and managing director of Demon Internet) where we decided to propose Peter Dawe as the "universally respected figure" mentioned near the end, and I briefed Peter on the train on the way to the meeting.

My original presentation was done using Powerpoint slides but no other notes. I've reproduced the slides here as a sequence of boxes, and added glosses where relevant.

Rate and Report

Presented by

Demon Internet

Rate and Report

  • Proposals for discussion concerning the issues of illegal and "adult" material on the Internet
  • Not a complete strategy, but a starting point
  • Needs filling-out by all parties

Two separate issues

  • Illegal material
    • Producers in the UK should be caught
    • Material from outside the UK should be blocked
  • Legal but "adult" material
    • Those who want to should be able to view it
    • Those who don't want to should be able to avoid it
    • Children should be protected from it

There was a lot of confusion in the press between these two matters.

"blocked" didn't refer to the present blocking systems installed by ISPs, but blocking at the browser or removing material from Usenet.

Why it isn't simple

  • Child pornography is an emotive issue
  • Legal material should not be blocked from adults
  • The technical issues are complex
    • The Internet was designed to survive World War 3
    • "The Net sees censorship as damage, and routes around it"

The preferred term these days is "child abuse images", though even that isn't strictly correct. The term "child pornography" was one of the causes of confusion between this material and legal pornography in the public's mind.

The "World War 3" bit was a prevalent myth at the time.

The quote comes from John Gilmore and its correct form is "The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it".

a two-pronged strategy

  • RATE material that appears on the UK Internet, so that readers know what they are going to see
  • REPORT material that originates in the UK (or any co-operating jurisdiction) and is illegal.

RATE - ensuring that users know what they are going to see

  • We wish to empower users of the Internet
  • This is done by ensuring that you can determine the type of material being viewed before seeing it
  • Proposal: an 8-point plan

Rating was never intended as a censorship tool, though many people claimed this. It was seen purely as a way of giving people a choice.

RATE 8-point plan

  1. Endorse PICS and RSACi for the WWW
  2. Ship PICS-enabled WWW software
  3. Rate all web pages
  4. Develop PICS standards for newsgroups
  5. Rate all newsgroups
  6. Make news servers provide ratings
  7. Ship PICS-enabled news readers
  8. Encourage the industry to conform

What are PICS and RSACi?

  • PICS - Platform for Internet Content Selection
    • Open industry standard
    • Allows multiple rating systems and bureaus
  • RSACi - Recreational Software Advisory Council
    • A PICS-based rating system
    • Accepted throughout the industry
    • Rates Language, Nudity, Sex, and Violence

The RSACi system was based on one for video games in the USA. In the next few years it would be replaced by a different system called "ICRA", created by a new body called the Internet Content Rating Association. This, in turn, morphed into the Family Online Safety Institute.

RATE step 1

  • The PICS and RSACi rating systems allow material on web sites to be classified in a useful manner.
  • Demon Internet has already endorsed PICS and RSACi
  • Ian Taylor has also endorsed these systems.

Ian Taylor MP was the (Conservative) Minister for Science and Technology at the time.

RATE step 2

  • Demon Internet is now shipping Internet Explorer 3 from Microsoft free.
  • IE3 contains facilities to allow a user to:
    • determine the type of material they wish to view
    • block users from seeing any web pages that are rated as being inappropriate
    • password allows parents to override rules

Those were the days when IE wasn't automatically free.

The described facilities are still in IE7.

RATE step 3

  • Demon Internet is enouraging RSACi rating of web pages on its sites
  • All Demon-generated content is rated
  • Rating required before pages placed in the customer index
  • Rating of all pages required by Dec 31st
  • Applies to both the commercial web service and to "Homepages".

Yes, that spelling mistake was in the original.

Demon pages were rated for many years but are no longer so.

Mandatory rating of customer pages was deeply unpopular and Demon backtracked on this decision.

RATE step 4

  • New Internet standard ("RFC") for transmitting newsgroup ratings
  • Currently being developed by Demon Internet and the Recreational Software Advisory Council (RSAC)
  • Multiple ways to rate a newsgroup
  • RSACi ratings of the "usual contents"

This document never reached RFC status and I've been unable to locate a copy.

RATE step 5

  • Responsible bodies asked to rate all 18,000 newsgroups
  • A not-for-profit foundation (hopefully Safety Net) will be asked to oversee and maintain the process
  • Various bodies will be able to assist in providing specific ratings

"Safety Net" was a proposal by Peter Dawe for a body to protect the Internet from such material. It never got off the ground as such, being overtaken by these events.

RATE step 6

  • Newsgroup ratings need to be delivered to the end-user software
  • The Demon Internet news servers have being modified to deliver ratings to software that conforms to the new RFC
    • new server software currently in alpha test
    • should be deployed in October

This was done, but the current servers no longer support it.

RATE step 7

  • Ratings are useless unless end-user software also conforms to the new RFC
  • Demon Internet's Turnpike package is being modified to conform
    • modified newsreader currently in alpha test
    • will be shipped free to all customers on the cover of DISpatches 5 (November)
    • will be a permanent feature of Turnpike

Turnpike is the email and Usenet software provided by Demon.

DISpatches was a magazine sent to all Demon customers, and often carried a floppy disc or CDrom on the cover.

The newsgroup rating facility was in several versions of Turnpike, but doesn't seem to have survived into Turnpike Six (the current version).

RATE step 8

  • We must not be alone
  • Demon Internet will use all relevant industry channels to encourage the newsgroup rating system:
    • RFC will be easily available free world-wide
    • patches to standard software given away
    • pressure applied through ISPA to get all IAPs to use newsgroup rating

REPORT - reporting illegal material originating in the UK

  • Demon Internet is adamant in its desire to remove child pornography from the Internet
  • This material has to be eliminated at source
  • UK authorities can only deal with material originating in the UK
    • Can co-operate with other countries

It is still the case that removal at source is the only practical approach.

Proposal - the Hotline

  • Establish an "Internet Child Pornography Hotline" for the UK
    • Any illegal material originating in the UK can be reported
    • Reported material will be removed and its creators found
  • Works well in the Netherlands
  • Endorsed by the Stockholm conference

As is implied here, there was already a similar hotline in the Netherlands.

The "Stockholm conference" was the first World Congress Against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children, held in Stockholm, 27-31 August 1996.

How the Hotline works

  1. Illegal material is reported to the Hotline
  2. Hotline staff locate the material
  3. Hotline staff evaluate the material
  4. "First offenders" warned
    • 24 or 48 hours to remove the material
  5. Material reported to the police
  6. All actions can be read in a public log

Hotline - notification

  • The Hotline receives notification of a web page or Usenet posting containing child pornography
  • Reports can be by letter, phone, or email

Hotline - locating

  • The Hotline staff locate and determine the origin of the material
  • Non-UK material is not handled (but the complaint can be forwarded)
  • Non-public material (such as email) is not handled
  • The complainant is informed via a standard letter

Since the intent was to take action, only material in the UK was of interest but the Hotline would determine this; reports about material anywhere would be accepted.

The letter was intended to tell the person reporting what action was taken. Since in practice reports are only taken via the IWF's web site, the reply letter idea never really got off the ground. However, it does mean that the person reporting doesn't know whether or not similar material should be reported in the future.

Hotline - evaluation

  • The Hotline staff will evaluate the item to determine if it is prima facia illegal
  • Legal "adult" material is not covered - the complainant will be given an explanation
  • Need clear and consistent criteria
    • Need to know what to report
    • Don't need to resolve the whole thorny question of obscenity right now

The only material to be covered was that illegal to possess, not material that is merely obscene.

Hotline - first offenders

  • First offenders might be innocent
    • apparent origin may be a forgery
  • Hotline staff attempt to contact the author and give them a fixed time (24 or 48 hours) to act
    • web pages must be removed or edited
    • news postings must be cancelled
  • No debates about legality or morality

This treatment of "first offenders" has fallen by the wayside.

The last bullet meant that the Hotline staff wouldn't debate the status of material with the person providing it.

Hotline - inform the police

  • Repeating or non-cooperative authors are reported to the police
  • Technical audit trails provided where possible
  • Hotline will request details of names and addresses from IAPs [DPA section 28(3)]

This refers to the Data Protection Act 1984; the corresponding provision in the current (1998) Act is section 29(3). However, the IWF does not get details of customers from IAPs (Internet Access Providers); this is left to the police.

Hotline - public log

  • All actions taken by the Hotline will be recorded in a public log
  • Having your name appearing in a log will be one of the greatest deterrents of all

This also never happened; I'm not sure why.

Creating the hotline

  • Action should be taken as soon as possible
  • First, the various parties need to agree on the steps to take
  • The Hotline must be independent of any ISP or IAP
  • Ideally a non-profit body headed by a universally respected figure

As I said before, this was code for Peter Dawe.


There were two versions of the presentation from here on. The left column gives the presentation as it was finally given, while the right column is an earlier draft.


Who does it?

  • All responsible Internet providers in the UK will be encouraged to support and fund the hotline
    • The LINX should take the lead
    • A range of funding models are available
    • Various sources ready to provide initial assistance

Who does what?

  • All responsible Internet providers in the UK will be encouraged to support and fund the hotline
    • The LINX should take the lead
    • A range of funding models are available
    • Various sources ready to provide initial assistance

At the time, LINX was far more influential than ISPA, which was still in its early days. Furthermore, Demon was a LINX member but not an ISPA member.


  • ISPs and IAPs must provide facilities for better tracking
    • Known loopholes should be closed
    • Audit trails such as X-NNTP-Posting-Host and X-Mail2News-Path should be provided
    • Anonymity must be regulated
    • Development of new and better forms of technical counter-measures

Who does what?

  • ISPs and IAPs must provide facilities for better tracking
    • Known loopholes should be closed
    • Audit trails such as X-NNTP-Posting-Host and X-Mail2News-Path should be provided
    • Development of new and better forms of technical counter-measures

No corresponding slide

Who does what?

  • The Crown Prosecution Service and Procurator Fiscal are requested to provide clear guidelines
    • Impossible to evaluate material without a good idea of what is not legal
    • Guidelines are of what to report, so as to maximise efforts

IWF received guidelines, but nothing was ever published.

No corresponding slide

Who does what?

  • Police forces need to provide contact details so that material can be reported in a timely manner
    • Specialist units?
    • Coordination by Scotland Yard?
    • ACPO?
    • One designated force?

This became an IWF/Police internal issue.

No corresponding slide

Who does what?

  • The Home Office are requested to provide legal guidance to ensure that all the actions are legal
    • Does DPA 28(3) allow IAPs proactively to pass on name and address details?
    • ISPs need immunity from the Computer Misuse Act when cancelling illegal news articles

It became generally accepted that 28(3) did allow this.

The immunity was never forthcoming but nobody seems to have cared.


  • Truly anonymous accounts are a danger
    pseudonymous users are not
    • IAPs must ensure they can identify the users of "free trials"
      • CLID recorded
      • Verified credit card details taken
    • Anonymous servers must release details, but only where a serious crime is involved
      • DPA section 28(3)
No corresponding slide

The issue here was services like anon.penet.fi that allowed people to post material anonymously. Although Penet itself didn't all photos to be posted, the concept remained a concern.

Now is the time for action

ISP community (LINX & ISPA)

Government (DTI & Home Office)


are all in agreement


Now is the time for action


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