The Internet Watch Foundation are a UK-based censorship company.

Their declared targets are:

  • Child sexual abuse images hosted anywhere in the world
  • criminally obscene content hosted in the UK that may be considered to "deprave and corrupt" those exposed to it. This could include realistic images of extreme pornography such as bestiality, necrophilia or an act which is life-threatening.
  • Incitement to racial hatred content hosted in the UK.

(Note the flexibility of the term 'criminally obscene')

and they censor:

  • Email
  • Website
  • Usenet / Newsgroup

from http://www.iwf.org.uk/reporting.htm

Their main modus operandi are producing a 'block list' and passing information on to the police.


  • The IWF are entirely self-appointed, and self-regulated.
  • Many concider the 'proper' way to censor to be to issue a take-down notice, that the censored can ignore, obliging the censorer to initiate court proceedings (burden of proof (and cost) on the accuser); the IWF's modus is to block, at which point the website has to first realize it's blocked, and then initiate proceedings to unblock (putting the burden of proof/cost on the accused)
  • The IWF are, themselves, the determiners of what is/isn't (potentially) illegal; again, censoring 'potentially' illegal puts the burden of proof on the accused.
  • There are claims that pressure has been put on the ISPs to join the 'voluntary' IWF block-list scheme.


The IWF won't publish their exact guidelines on what counts as 'potentially illegal'; nor will they publicize what sites are blocked (tho this is arguably less meta-censorship, and more part of the censorship itself).

The act of censoring a website is, however, itself often censored, with the censored website being replaced by a 404 message.

It should be noted, however, that the implimentation of the blocking of sites deemed potentially illegal by the IWF is the responsibility of the ISP.

e.g., when the IWF censored a wikipedia page, the ISP Daemon blocked by giving this message:

“We have blocked this page because, according to the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), it contains indecent images of children or pointers to them; you could be breaking UK law if you viewed the page.”

Whereas many ISPs simply returned a 404, making it appear that the page no longer existed or that the link was out of date. (source: http://www.openrightsgroup.org/2008/12/15/lessons-and-questions-for-the-iwf/)

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