The responsibilities of free speech regulators: An analysis of the internet watch foundation

E.B. Laidlaw

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)


The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) is a UK-based self-regulatory organization that seeks to reduce the availability of child sexual abuse and criminally obscene content on the Internet. One of the methods used by this organization is the creation of a blacklist of content, which the members disable access to through the use of filtering technologies. The work of the IWF raises fundamental questions about how to regulate free speech in the digital age; it carries out work of critical importance, but if unchecked its operations can have a significant impact on the right to freedom of expression. This article examines whether the IWF's regulatory structure is sufficient to protect and respect freedom of expression online. The analysis is both internal to the organization by looking at its governance documents, and external to the IWF by examining the applicability of human rights laws. Through this examination, wider issues in Internet regulation and human right are analysed, in particular the increasing impact of businesses on human rights such as free speech, the sufficiency of self-regulation to address human rights issues, and the limits in extending direct application of human rights laws to private organizations. This article concludes by identifying the risks with self-regulatory regimes when human rights are at stake and by framing the principles needed for accountability of such bodies as the IWF for freedom of expression.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)312-345
Number of pages34
JournalInternational Journal of Law and Information Technology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2012

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