This is a wonderful parody video about plans by European Commissioner Cecilia Malmström to introduce a website blocking system in Europe.

I find it amusing that some people believe that widespread filtering is usually advocated as a solution to minority behaviour that, while abhorrent, does not justify putting in place an infrastructure that can be monumentally misused. I usually think that those who advocate filtering do so from a deep seated fear about online freedoms.

Comments 4

  1. Such filtering will not affect 99.99% of the internet's users. for the .01% it does affect it will form a hindrance. I came up with Cleanfeed which the UK deployed, and unilaterally it has been embraced by ISPs and internet users across the globe. It is not the silver bullet but if every ISP blocked websites that contain images of child sexual abuse it will start to close the tap on the readily availability of this content.

    However p2p is by far the biggest distribution method of this content and that is unmanaged.

    freedom of speech does not justify the horrendous abuse that these children suffer, and any measures that can be taken to combat such measures should be embraced and not ridiculed as a loss of liberty. In the offline world if shops or newsagents were to offer these images there would be public condemnation, and quite rightly they would be forced to stop. The pay per view websites that sell images of children being sexually abused cannot be justified or protected. Those children had rights too.

    Since 2004 when BT turned on Cleanfeed there has been no attempt at scope creep, there has been no challenge on the implementation of such measures, there have been a few isolated excuses why it should not be done but not a single reason. In fact the only negative comments regarding this type of initiative came from the paedophile community the day after we launched it.

    As an academic you should know the difference between civil liberty and civil rights.

    1. Dear Nick,

      Thanks for the comment, it is always good to read dissenting opinions, particularly from someone who seems involved in regulatory issues. Firstly, let me make it very clear that of course child pornography is an aberration and must be stamped out. However, it is a sad indication of the level of the debate that when one is trying to defend an open internet there is an implication that one also defends unfettered free speech, and that somehow that means that abuse websites must be allowed to remain. That is not the case, I do not know anyone who believes that child pornography websites should remain functional in order to respond to some idealised version of freedom of speech online.

      The question then is how do we stop child pornography? We have several options, one of them of course is widespread filtering.

      One could argue about Cleanfeed, I personally think that the intentions are good but that it is useless technology that does not really stop the existence of child pornography online. Lilian Edwards makes a good argument against it here. However, the level of filtering being suggested is not at all like Cleanfeed, and more like the various national firewalls put in place all over the world.

      It is funny that you mention P2P. Just today I was reading how some policymakers in Europe have been arguing that child pornography is a good thing because it allows them to try to force online filtering that can be deployed for other uses.

      I am quite interested about the source for your 99.9% figure, in my experience and to my knowledge, whenever national firewalls are put in place, they tend to filter considerably more than 99.9%, and it is not simply a matter of "hindrance" as you put it. In fact, there is a comprehensive study about online filtering by the Berkman Center if you are interested in more accurate figures. As an anecdote, I have been behind national firewalls (particularly in Pakistan), and the amount of websites I could not access was staggering, including Blogger. Just recently, access to various sites was restricted in Tunisia, this is considerably more than just a hindrance. You may argue that these are isolated cases, but the fact is that the norm is that filtering once in place creeps to restrict access to all sorts of objectionable material that political masters deem inappropriate at that time and place. I generally do not like slippery slope arguments, but in this case it is something that does have to worry anyone who cares about the open internet.

      The truth is that filtering does not work. The practice of child pornographers is nowadays to operate in closed, secure and encrypted networks precisely because of the existence of things like Cleanfeed. This makes them harder to catch.

      I am reminded of Bruce Sterling's visionary speech at CFP about the Four Horsemen of the Infocalypse. The truth is that if you want to impose any online restriction, you somehow tie it with child pornography, and nobody will dare oppose it.

      This, my friend, is precisely the difference between liberties and rights.

  2. Dear Andres,

    posted with a UK proxie

    National firewalls like the great wall of China, are of course not what in my mind the best way of targeting a specific aspect of Internet abuse. However, as the PPV websites that sell this content mostly use fast flux to hide their locations it makes detection, prosecution and removal an impossible task.

    Most jurisdictions will take action and remove offending content where possible but in the small number of sites that remain this is not an option.

    So what do we do? Countries are entitled to filter content based on their laws and principles, just because the internet is a global medium does not mean it is above any law. So for instance in the Middle East most adult porn content is blocked, along with content that is deemed to promote political descent.

    The IWF maintains a dynamic list of known illegal URLs, accessing content on those URLS could result in 10 years inside, so it is an ISPs interest to protect customers from indivertibly accessing that content. This filtering was never designed to stop those hell bent on accessing CP.

    I have travelled the world and spoken to ISPs in just about every country, and despite an resistance to generic to blocking not one ISP (bar a few in Australia) have deemed the initiative anything other than a good thing. If you can block it, and remove the ability for it to be easily found why not? If you can't Google it and the only way of accessing is through networks and proxies then for the significant majority there will be no impact whatsoever.

    I assume that there is no objection to other types of blocking? Spam, DDOS, botnet traffic, snuff content, malware, phishing, etc.. so why single out blocking child abuse websites as unacceptable?

    1. Dear Nick,

      We are talking about two different things. You are defending Cleanfeed and the IWF. As I said, I am not greatly opposed to such solutions, while I think they are useless, I think that the scope for filtering creep is limited. Cleanfeed is at most a cosmetic solution that allows ISPs to feel good and be seen to be doing something.

      I am greatly opposed to national firewalls from every perspective. Do countries have the right to torture and imprison their citizens? Sure. Should we protest such action? Sure. I see national firewalls in the same light.

      My argument regarding child pornography is that it is used as a handy excuse to implement technologies that will be used for something else.

      As for other types of filtering, I think we are talking about different technical solutions to specific problems, and I disagree that broad solutions for those problems are the answer. We have specific technical solutions for each of those issues. Therefore, we need a classification for potential filtering solutions, namely about content, and about technical attacks.

      In the first category I would include anything that might be considered unsavoury: terrorism material, racist content, snuff, pornography, child pornography, political views, etc. Because these are subjective issues, I oppose any automated widespread filtering that tries to get rid of content in general. Things like Cleanfeed are fine because they are not automated, at some point some person has to make a decision.

      In the second category, I would place technical attacks. These include DDOS, phishing, malware, botnets, Spam, etc. Filtering of this content can take place automatically, perhaps with the exception of phishing, where the response is a notification system by banks in order to take down sites.

      So, no, it is not about child pornography, it is about the fact that we are tired that it is used as a handy excuse to implement restrictions on the open internet.

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