Netherlands risks becoming ‘safe haven’ for abusers, says watchdog

47% of web addresses linked to child sex abuse images hosted on Dutch servers

The reason so many of the illegal images were hosted on Dutch servers was because of the low cost of indiscriminate web-hosting in the Netherlands, according to the report. Photograph: iStock

The reason so many of the illegal images were hosted on Dutch servers was because of the low cost of indiscriminate web-hosting in the Netherlands, according to the report. Photograph: iStock

 

Almost half the internet addresses reported last year to an independent UK-based watchdog as featuring child sex abuse images or videos were hosted in the Netherlands, prompting a warning that the country risks becoming “a safe haven” for abusers.

According to the charity, the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), of more than 105,000 web addresses linked to illegal images, 48,900 – or some 47 per cent – were located on Dutch servers, up almost one-third from 36 per cent in 2017.

The IWF report shows that, overall, the number of web addresses confirmed as hosting illegal images has almost quadrupled since 2014, when it stood at about 26,000.

A breakdown of the figures also reveals that a substantial 78.8 per cent of the child sex abuse images reported were hosted in Europe, including Russia and Turkey; 16.1 per cent were hosted in North America; and 4.8 per cent were hosted in Asia, while all other locations accounted for just 0.3 per cent.

The report said the reason so many of the illegal images were hosted on Dutch servers was because of the low cost of indiscriminate web-hosting in the Netherlands.

However, the chief executive of the IWF, Susie Hargreaves, said the Netherlands was at risk of developing a reputation as “a safe haven for child sexual abuse”.

She added: “It’s time for the Dutch to stand up and do what’s right.”

Hostile environment

In contrast to the Netherlands, the UK had successfully created “a hostile environment” for people wishing to share illegal images, said Ms Hargreaves.

In 2018, only 0.04 per cent of web addresses with illegal images were hosted there – the lowest ever, down from 18 per cent in 1996.

The IWF works with governments, tech companies and law enforcement agencies to confirm reports of illegal content and to have the images taken down. It says that since it was set up in 1996 it has assessed more than a million reports.

In 2018, it says, more than three-quarters of the illegal images of child abuse – in fact, 82 per cent – were found on image-hosting services rather than on social networks or private websites.

It declined to name the image-sharing services, but said it usually worked with the companies to ensure the content was removed. It had also offered its services to the Dutch authorities.

The Dutch government has acknowledged the worrying increase in reports of child abuse images, and has pledged to tackle the problem.