Peter Robbins has stepped down as Chief Executive of the Internet Watch Foundation after almost nine years heading up the occasionally controversial organisation.
An announcement slipped out quietly yesterday to the effect that after some eight years steering the IWF through some of its most challenging years in the public eye, Robbins would be standing down in July.
In an official statement, Chair of the IWF Board Eve Saloman said: "On behalf of the IWF Board, I would like to thank Peter for all his hard work.
"He has provided clear and steady leadership to the IWF for many years and overseen our considerable growth into the successful and respected body we now are. We are immensely grateful and wish him every success in the future."
During his time at the IWF, Robbins led the organisation in its sometimes controversial adoption and roll-out of the URL blocking service Cleanfeed. At the same time, he brought to the IWF an air of dignified calm, perhaps learnt from his days as Borough Commander in Hackney Police, which went well with the IWF’s international prominent role in issues of internet governance.
Never a crusader, when we spoke to Peter Robbins at length about his work back in 2009, he came across then as a quiet pragmatist: a genial politician who recognised that the IWF needed an individual at its helm who was thoroughly au fait with police culture and ways of working, and who could act as a bridge between police and public.
He was a firm advocate of the UK approach to policing the net: effectively, a body set up by the internet industry and at arm’s length from government. He would have liked the IWF to do more but, as he commented at the time, with an increasingly small proportion of child abuse material being hosted within the UK, the IWF was in the hands of foreign police and legal systems in terms of what action it could take.
Robbins considered the IWF was right to block the Scorpions album cover - but equally right to unblock it once the Board had considered all circumstances around the case. He had little interest in pushing the activities of the IWF into policing more and more borderline material, and with the number of URLs in the IWF blocklist at an all-time low (around 500 on any given day), he looked forward to a time when its work would be done.
There is little mystery about his departure. He may quietly retire from public life; but our sense is that Robbins may well re-emerge in the not too distant future in a role that is likely to see his continuing presence in the public eye. ®