Watchdog reports lead to shutdown of illegal websites

The vast majority of illegal websites reported to an Irish internet watchdog last year no longer exist or had the criminal content wiped, it emerged today.

The vast majority of illegal websites reported to an Irish internet watchdog last year no longer exist or had the criminal content wiped, it emerged today.

None of the sites were registered in Ireland but were flagged up by internet users here who alerted the Government-backed Hotline service.

It monitors child porn, financial scams and the promotion of racism and recorded a 24% drop in the number of complaints about suspected illegal sites last year.

Justice Minister Dermot Ahern welcomed the findings but warned the public not to be complacent and continue to support the scheme.

“It is vital that the public continues to report illegal content to the Hotline,” Mr Ahern said.

“Don’t wait for someone else to do it.

“We are the eyes and ears of child safety both domestically and internationally and every report will be investigated.”

Hotline received 1,966 reports of illegal sites last year, down 24% on 2007, according to its 2008 annual report.

Analysts said 443 were confirmed as child pornography but the images and material were not being hosted on Irish internet servers.

However despite the drop in reports the severity of the images has not abated and remain on a par with the findings from 2006 and 2007.

The report found 92% of the sites confirmed to be illegal by hotline analysts in 2008 aren’t now in existence or no longer contain offending material.

Hotline was set up in 1999 and if material is sourced in Ireland it requests the ISP to remove it.

If it is hosted abroad then analysts here make contact with international hotlines and report the site.

Hotline’s annual report also highlighted that a complaint last year led to Australian authorities shutting down a series of global child porn sites.

But Paul Durrant, Hotline general manager, warned people should not drop their guard despite the positive findings.

“We cannot relax our guard. We are still above what things were for 2006,” he said.

“It is very important that the vigilance is kept up and the public co-operate.”

The website is run by the Internet Service Providers Association of Ireland (ISPAI) to allow anonymous reporting of suspected illegal material.

It is supported and financed by 23 members including Eircom, NTL and Vodafone accounting for the vast majority of internet traffic.

However there are up to 80 smaller ISPs, many of which have set up in recent years, that have not become members.

Both Mr Durrant and Mr Ahern urged them to sign up as soon as possible.

“I know that the vast majority of service providers are participating in this but I would again encourage those who are not in to participate,” the minister said.

“Some people feel that this is really a matter for the state and the gardai to look to. I don’t agree because the state can only do so much.”

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