Under-18s can seek removal of online nude images of themselves

The Internet Watch Foundation (“IWF”) and Childline have created a service that will allow minors to request nude images or videos of themselves to be removed from the internet.

Childline and the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) joined forces in 2013 to ensure young people of 17 years and under know where to turn to get sexually explicit images removed from the internet. The partnership was a result of a Childline survey of 13-18 year olds which revealed that young people are frequently taking huge risks by making and sending sexual images of themselves.

The IWF was first established in 1996 to fulfil an independent role in receiving, assessing and tracing public complaints about child sexual abuse content on the internet and to support the development of website rating systems. The IWF states it works hard to implement new technologies to improve the identification and removal of these images and videos.

The newest service is called “Report Remove” and can be found on the Childline website.  The tool, which was first piloted in February 2020, can be used by any young person under the age of 18.  In order to report content, a young person has to verify their age and Childline will also ensure that all young people are safeguarded and supported throughout the whole process (unless the person wants to remain anonymous).

The service is said to be a “world first”. For the first time, people under the age of 18 who are concerned that a nude photo of them is online – or could potentially end up there – can now flag up the content and it may be removed if it breaks the law.

Once the image/video has been flagged by a minor by providing the URL (the web address), the IWF will examine the image and try and remove it if it breaks the law.  If the content has not yet appeared online but a person is worried it might be, a digital finger print for the picture can be created known as a “hash” which is then shared with tech companies and law enforcement around the world to help prevent it being uploaded and shared.   

The IWF keeps a “Hash List” that is updated regularly and sent daily to subscribers which contains these unique codes (or digital fingerprints).  The aim is that with the list, companies will be able to automatically match known images and videos before they appear on their services thus they will not be uploaded. It is also possible to remove illegal images and videos already uploaded.

The type of subscribers to the Hash List would be tech providers and/or companies such as filtering providers, hosting or file sharing services, social media and chat services as well as data centres.

Cormac Nolan, Service Head of Childline Online saidThe impact of having a nude image shared on the internet cannot be underestimated…. That’s why ChildLine and the IWF have developed Report Remove to provide young people a simple, safe tool that they can use to try and help them regain control over what is happening and get this content erased.”

Childline reports that minors can send images for a number of reasons; such as to a boyfriend or girlfriend who has since shared them without their consent.  The IWF reports that 38,000 self-generated images were reported in the first three months of this year which is over double the amount compared to the same period last year.

The head of the IWF, Susie Hargreaves, said Report Remove “will give young people the power, and the confidence, to reclaim these images and make sure they do not fall into the wrong hands online“.

Once those images are out there, it can be an incredibly lonely place for victims, and it can seem hopeless.” Childline also notes that many children in this situation could be feeling extremely worried and unsure on what to do or who to turn to for support.

It is important therefore for tools such as “Report Remove” to receive significant publicity in the hope that more knowledge around this issue can reduce the amount of inappropriate online content.

Written by Suzanne Houghton at BLM suzanne.houghton@blmlaw.com

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