HC Deb 21 January 1998 vol 304 c574W
Mr. Maude

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what plans he has to ensure that on-line service and access providers, including telecommunications companies, take legal and administrative responsibility for ensuring that material which is transmitted or delivered by them does not include obscene material. [23578]

Mr. Michael

Generally, the position in law is that what is illegal off-line is illegal on-line. The Obscene Publications Act 1959 therefore applies to material published via the Internet as does specific legislation relating to child pornography (the Protection of Children Act 1978, as amended). Everyone, including service and access providers and telecommunications companies, bears responsibility for their own conscious acts and omissions and are responsible for the material published to the extent that they are aware of it.

It follows that there is a strong incentive for service providers to act to uphold the law. The Internet Watch Foundation—a self-regulatory body funded by the United Kingdom Internet industry—was established in September 1996. It provides a "hotline" to which anyone can report material on the Internet which they consider may be potentially illegal. If the material is likely to be illegal under United Kingdom law, and it originates outside the United Kingdom, a report is passed through the National Criminal Intelligence Service to the enforcement authority in the country of origin. If it originates in the United Kingdom, a report is passed to the relevant service provider as well as the relevant United Kingdom police force. Service providers may then ask the user to remove the material or cease the activity on United Kingdom servers; or ultimately may do this directly themselves.

I understand that service providers are diligent when they are made aware of illegal material and regularly co-operate with the police in the course of any investigation, for example, in identifying the originator of the potentially illegal material or activity.