by Christian Scholz on March 29, 2010
Update #1, 17:00: Thanks to @bendrath for informing me that the linked proposal is not the official one. Also added reason #11 thanks to Thorsten in the comments.
Today Cecilia Malmström, European Commissioner for Home Affairs, revealed her plans on fighting child abuse on the internet which means blocking such sites in the EU. From the proposal (which is not yet public but based on this proposal):
Each Member State shall, in accordance with the basic principles of its legal system, take the necessary measures to obtain the blocking of access by Internet users to Internet pages containing or disseminating child pornography, inter alia, by facilitating the competent judicial or police authorities to order such blocking or by supporting and stimulating Internet Service Providers on a voluntary basis to block such Internet pages. The blocking shall be subject to adequate safeguards, in particular to ensure that the blocking is limited to what is necessary, that users are informed of the reason for the blocking and that content providers, as far as possible, are informed of the possibility of challenging it.
(underlined are compromise proposals)
We had this discussion in germany last year and by now most of the parties see such a measures as not useful to help fighting child pornography. Thus it’s sad to see how this topic comes back through the backdoor of the EU.
The proposed method in germany was to ask ISPs to manipulate their DNS servers and redirect traffic to sites on a blacklist to a STOP sign with some explanation.
Here are 10 reasons why it does not really help but instead is a threat to the freedom of information on the internet:
- Blocking these sites does not make these sites go away. They are still on the internet and can be accessed by anybody capable of circumventing the filters.
- You can never make sure that no overblocking is happening. Due to the nature of some mechanisms such as DNS blocking you can only block whole domains not individual URLs. Moreover it’s not that easy to judge whether something should be blocked or not. Moreover it is not made mandatory that a judge has to be involved.
- The blacklist needs to be classified. This means the public cannot check its contents and thus there is a threat of possible censorship. This might eventually just happen by accident to sites which criticize this law. Again a threat to freedom of communication.
- If those lists leak (and they have in the past) it’s a shopping list for people searching for such sites. This is defeats the whole purpose.
- Sites usually can be taken down (read: Content will be deleted) worldwide which an experiment of Alvar Freude of AK Zensur (Taskforce Censorship) in Germany showed. He managed to get 61 sites from a leaked list deleted within 12 hours. Moreover these sites are not really outside the jurisdiction of Europe or the USA as this graphic shows:
(Chart by Florian Walther based on the leaked blacklists, red=many sites, another one here).
This is also confirmed by a letter from the german federal police, which says that the number 3 countries which host child porn are USA, Germany and the Netherlands.
- Blocking a website can be detected by the criminal operating of the website if looking for it (and thus expecting it). Thus it also means a warning for that criminal.
- Only blocking a website also means that the criminal operating it will go uncharged.
- The blacklists will usually not be re-checked if the content is still there and deleted if it isn’t.
- Site operators which get on the blacklist are not informed about it and thus cannot protest against an eventual wrong decision.
- Those filters can usually be circumvented quite easily. There is a video on YouTube showing on how to do that in a few seconds for the proposed german filters.
- Abusive content is not only exchanged by means of the Word Wide Web but many other channels like IRC, NNTP, freenet etc., too. These channels will not be caught by access blocking.
It should be clear that such measures can not only be used against sites containing child porn but also potentially against any other content. In Germany it did not take long before all sorts of lobbies wanted to extend the list with general porn sites, foreign gambling sites, file sharing sites and more.
The main problem though is the absence of the division of powers because usually the police departments control the lists.
What should be done?
If investigators would go after sites in Europa and USA much would be won already. This basically means:
- Deleting sites instead of just blocking them
- Strengthen international cooperation
- Providing more personal to the police to be able to investigate more in these areas
There are surely useful things mentioned in that proposal but access blocking is not one of them.
Child porn as freedom of expression?
Another thing I want to make clear: Cecilia Malmström stated again today that it cannot be that child porn should be protected as a form of freedom of expression.
Nobody says something like that though. All that critics of this and similar proposals say is that it can limit the freedom of expression because it installs a censorship infrastructure which can easily be misused.
We had a big change of mind during the discussion about a similar law in Germany and except the conservatives now everybody agrees that it’s useless.
Let’s hope for a quick change of mind in Europe, too!
And for this to happen please make the problem public, call and write your MEPs and explain it to them!
More on the matter:
Follow the #censilia hashtag (after #zensursula, the hashtag for minister Ursula von der Leyen who has similar plans)