UK ISPs Block Wikipedia Page; Cause Problem With UK Editing

from the unintended-consequences dept

One of the big problems with the idea of various governments around the world coming up with "blacklists" that ISPs have to block access to, is that it will always create huge questions over borderline content. At least if there's a lawsuit that involves taking down specific illegal content, there's due process to determine if the content is actually illegal. But handing that authority to a single entity with no outstanding review process seems quite dangerous. And, now, it's resulted in a variety of UK ISPs, who subscribe to Internet Watch Foundation UK's blacklist, to block a particular page on Wikipedia. The page itself is about an album, Virgin Killer, from the German band Scorpions. Apparently, the cover of the album includes a photo that many feel is child pornography.

However, in blocking out this page, there have been some unintended consequences. Apparently, the way that the ISPs are blocking access to the page involves a transparent proxy, that effectively routes all customers through a very small number of IP addresses -- and that's causing a second problem. Many of the users of those ISPs are now banned from editing any Wikipedia article. Basically, if anyone from those IPs gets on the banned list, it now affects every user, and that's what's happened for at least a segment of the UK population at this point.

And, of course, this action hasn't done anything to prevent or slow down the spread of a potentially illegal image. Because of the attempted block -- The Register notes the image is still available on Amazon's UK site -- plenty of others are also posting the image to point out how silly it is to set up such a block. Once again, this demonstrates the futility of such filtering systems. If certain content is illegal, go after it with laws -- not a secretive filtering process that will create unintended consequences with no warning.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  •  
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    Sean, Dec 8th, 2008 @ 2:11am

    Worse still...

    OK, the IWF exists to;

    Remit
    To minimise the availability of potentially illegal internet content specifically;

    * images of child sexual abuse* hosted anywhere in the world
    * criminally obscene content hosted in the UK
    * incitement to racial hatred content hosted in the UK

    That's right, this is CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE.

    So now the band, the distributors, the record company, everyone that has a copy of the album, every shop that sells it, will all now face criminal charges.

    Right? I mean, it is, or it isn't, child sexual abuse? Or can they toss this charge around like so much confetti in order to defend completely STUPID and IGNORANT decisions?

    BTW the Register article really sucks, I don't know what Cade Metz's problem with Wikipedia is, but it's notable that the updates were done by another author with a more neutral tone. Much better to check out the BBC reporting.

     

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    mike allen, Dec 8th, 2008 @ 2:23am

    this album

    the record was released in 1977 and is not new they tried to ban it several times (failed miserably) i think i still have the original somewhere It is worth pointing out it is the cover that was subject to a ban not the album it is also worth reading the comments on the register. the cover consists of a naked female the same picture is available in a book at most library's in the UK without the added artwork of the record company.

     

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    inc, Dec 8th, 2008 @ 3:21am

    that image is kinda messed up but it's older then me. I bet a lot more people know about it now.

     

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    R, Dec 8th, 2008 @ 4:00am

    Two Words:

    Streisand Effect

     

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    Shohat, Dec 8th, 2008 @ 4:02am

    Ahem

    1) Mike, you can't go after it with laws. It's illegal in the UK, not necessarily in Germany or US.
    If for instance child porn becomes perfectly legal in Sweden, and the Internet is then legally full of Swedish child porn, you can expect filters being put in place by countries. Or nuking Sweden.

    2) Regardless of what actually should/could be done, that's child porn. It's nothing new also, since that cover was changed a short time after it has been released, because everyone and their mother agreed on that issue.

    Except for the idiotic implementation (proxy), they did everything according to a rather reasonable law.

     

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      PaulT (profile), Dec 8th, 2008 @ 5:07am

      Re: Ahem

      Here's my problem with that argument:

      The image was presented as part of a historical argument. It's on an encyclopedia with millions of articles, and the image was presented as an exhibit to show why it was controversial (as with several other Scorpions album covers, the Beatles' infamous "meat" cover, etc - all of which were changed shortly after release). As an image, it's of questionable taste, but presents no harm either to the girl in the picture or anyone viewing the image.

      Filtering Wikipedia does a number of dangerous things. First of all, it presents the view that removing any historical image is fine if it presents moral or even legal problems today. That is, by any definition, both wrong and extremely dangerous. We're not meant to go through life unchallenged and unoffended. I object to images from the Holocaust and Vietnam and think people should be prevented from doing the same things, but I don't believe they should
      banned.

      Secondly, it's counter-productive in terms of what the law is meant to do. The law is there to *protect children*. This child was almost certainly not abused, and the picture was heavily publicised at the time (so I assume any claims of abuse would have been investigated then). There has been no suggestion of abuse up until now. The problem is that by implementing filters on such a public site, actual child abusers now have a chance to experiment with ways to bypass "protections", and continue to view actual child abuse undetected.

      Thirdly, look at comment #1 above from Sean. According to the IWF's own remit, no image from outside the UK is policed by them unless is shows child sexual abuse. There is no definition of that term I've ever heard that would include this image. So, even within their own rules, they may have overstepped their authority.

      Finally, there's the "slippery slope" argument. Wikipedia is not the only site to show the image (Amazon and eBay, for example, still show it), and the image has almost certainly been mirrored to many more sites since this story came out (Streisand Effect). Are the IWF going to block all these sites? Is it really worth the chilling effect of free speech and freedom of information (not to mention commerce) just to block an album cover that was perfectly legal at the time it was produced?

       

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        Chuck D. Money, Dec 8th, 2008 @ 6:52am

        Re: Re: Ahem

        As to your second point, someone did an interview with her earlier this year (twas cited on Slashdot but I didn't RTFA) and not only did she volunteer for the photo shoot, she said she was both paid for it (despite offering to do the shoot for free) and had landed several jobs since then as a result from it. The shoot actually helped her. On the other hand, yes, it was illegal, since according to her, she was 16 at the time. That said, I'm not sure how UK laws work precisely, but I'm a paralegal here in the US and if the victim won't agree to press charges there's basically nothing a DA can do that will make it to trial, especially now that she's over the age of consent.

         

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          PaulT (profile), Dec 8th, 2008 @ 7:21am

          Re: Re: Re: Ahem

          "The shoot actually helped her. On the other hand, yes, it was illegal, since according to her, she was 16 at the time."

          That depends, and that's where the water gets muddy. I'm no expert on these matter, but Scorpion is a German band. If the photoshoot took place in Germany, the laws are rather more lax with 14 often being the cut off point for certain laws. That might mean it was actually legal in the country in which it was produced, at the time it was produced.

          So to my mind, it falls into the same category as Zeffirelli's Romeo & Juliet or the Japanese film Ai no Corrida as a work of art which - while it may not be legal to shoot in that way today - was acceptable at the time and should be recorded and accessible as a part of history.

          Either way, this is a rather silly interpretation of these laws. A willing participant in a non-sexual picture taken 30 years ago is no reason to apply current child pornography laws, even if there was a way to apply them. Let it go, else we end up with idiocy like this story about an Australian convicted for possessing drawings of Simpsons characters: http://www.news.com.au/story/0,27574,24767142-29277,00.html. Such cases render these laws meaningless.

           

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            mike allen, Dec 9th, 2008 @ 12:37am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Ahem

            just for information 16 is the age of concent in UK and was in the 60s nevermind the 70s. so picture is not child porn at all nor was it illegal.

             

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            Anonymous Coward, Dec 10th, 2008 @ 12:49pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Ahem

            "Such cases render these laws meaningless."

            Tell that to someone being prosecuted (persecuted?) with them.

             

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      Anonymous Coward, Dec 8th, 2008 @ 6:25am

      Re: Ahem

      @Shohat:

      You really need to take some reading comprehension classes. I swear every time you post here (even when you are defending Mike in some cases rather than disagreeing) you seem to take what Mike has written differently than what is actually there in the text.

      1) What Mike was really saying was that the people who had that cover originally in '76 are apparently in possession of child pornography and potentially are going to be retroactively charged with such things after over 3 decades of *legally* having it.

      In the US, we don't like ex post facto type laws. Too easy to make it so you can arrest anyone you want.

      2) Agreed. The girl looks to be 14 in the original. When the re-mastered version was released with In Trance (another album by the Scorpians) they just had a cover of the band because of recently passed indecency laws.


      This quickly becomes one of those things where you wonder if you can't possess that original album for historical reasons. In Germany they ban anything Nazi like. They very much want nothing to do with that dark time in their history.

      As someone once said: those that do not know their history are doomed to repeat it.

      There is danger in hiding things. While it may be harmless to never have anyone see that cover again, it is a slippery slope. I'm glad elsewhere in the world we're allowed to learn of the horrible things the Nazi's did. While I'm glad for the medical and other technological advancements we have thanks to WW2, I'm not happy at all with the price. And it is a good thing I can even know about the price we paid, and that the jews in Europe paid.

      Now, personally I don't find anything wrong with the picture. She does look to be 14-16 at best but a) appearances can be deceiving and b) I prefer my women a bit more...mature. So it does nothing for me.

      Essentially I'm seeing it as a bit of art. The album had a theme and the cover art had to go with the theme.

      But then I also think in games like Left4Dead there should be zombie kids (and yet I don't advocate child violence) because well the whole point is everyone was turned into zombies. I guess the kids just get eaten then but it "wouldn't work that way" in my head so its a continuity issue for me.

      Then there is the whole argument some people have over whether or not child porn is harmful if no children are actually involved. Disgusting argument but a valid one.

      After all, a few centuries ago it was normal for girls to be having 2-3 kids by the time they were 16. We haven't had time to evolve far enough along biologically as we have sociologically and some people are paying the price for that.

       

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        Shohat, Dec 8th, 2008 @ 7:33am

        Re: Re: Ahem

        in '76 are apparently in possession of child pornography and potentially are going to be retroactively charged with such things after over 3 decades of *legally* having it.

        In the US, we don't like ex post facto type laws. Too easy to make it so you can arrest anyone you want.


        They are not going after those people. Not as far as I know at least. That's an imaginary threat, much like "omg terrorists coming we must strike now !". They are not coming after album owners. Nobody is. Panties on.


        "As someone once said: those that do not know their history are doomed to repeat it."


        Germany is an extremely complex issue. Mostly because Nazism would work in almost every other country in any given time if done right. So they have laws against it in order to try prevent the movement from gaining traction.

        Regarding your final comment - I completely agree. That's why it is more than biologically normal to have sex with a 14 year old girl, but our society does not accept it.
        You should also remember that there is a pseudo-biological change however - human bodies are built to live around 35 years. Current lifespan is around 80. So legal age for stuff probably changed accordingly.

         

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      Anonymous Coward, Dec 10th, 2008 @ 12:59pm

      Re: Ahem

      "2) Regardless of what actually should/could be done, that's child porn. It's nothing new also, since that cover was changed a short time after it has been released, because everyone and their mother agreed on that issue."

      No, that's not true. Everyone did not and does not agree on that issue. You know what they call saying untrue things, don't you?

       

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    SteveD, Dec 8th, 2008 @ 4:31am

    The real issue here is an un-regulated charity acting as moral censor for the British public.

     

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    Haywood, Dec 8th, 2008 @ 4:41am

    Took seconds to locate the photo

    Golly gee, that doesn't remind me of porn in any sense of the term, aside from it being a naked female.

     

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    Alison Wheeler, Dec 8th, 2008 @ 5:25am

    Not illegal!

    @Shohat

    Actually, the record cover's image is *not* illegal in the UK. Not in any country, in fact.

    The IWF could have blocked just the image but instead they chose to block the text of the article which neutrally reviewed the cover as well as the article. The copies of the cover image on Amazon.com, HMV, etc make no comment on the actual comment.

     

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    Steve R. (profile), Dec 8th, 2008 @ 6:37am

    Net Neutrality

    Slippery slope. If it is OK to coerce ISPs block "pornography" (which is an elusive term) then it doesn't become much of a logical stretch for the ISPs to be required to block any "offending" content. Any offending content can include any content that a special interest group does not want disseminated. So who defines what "bad" content is? I suppose we could resurrect the Committee of Public Safety from the French Revolution. Of course all this filtering would be done for your protection.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 8th, 2008 @ 10:08am

    I applaud this decision by the IWF. In fact, I want to help them protect UK users from this disgusting, obviously perverted filth. To that end, I've just filed an online report with the IWF, listing several other sites where this image can be found; www.google.com, www.yahoo.com, ask.com, altavista.com, etc. Hopefully they'll ban all of them!

     

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      PaulT (profile), Dec 8th, 2008 @ 10:37am

      Re:

      So, you want to block eBay, Amazon, 80% of the blogs that covered this image, a bunch of forums who discussed it and thousands of other sites because they dared show an image of an album cover that was available 30 years ago and has never been judged illegal? You also want to block any search engine that allows this perfectly legal (in the time and place it was produced - the cover was changed for commercial reasons, not legal ones) image to be found?

      You're an idiot. Why not save your rage for actual child porn? You know, the stuff that's being produced now and has children being abused in order to create it.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 8th, 2008 @ 12:37pm

    Whats gonna happen to Nevermind?

     

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    David Gerard, Dec 8th, 2008 @ 1:44pm

    Please give us your money, btw

    I hope it’s not too off-topic to note here that (a) we’re an educational charity (b) we live off public donations (c) we have a funding drive on right now :-)

    We have no money to spend on expensive legal assistance on issues like this. (We do have Mike Godwin, the world’s most famous Internet lawyer, as our general counsel, which is just unbelievably cool and very effective.) So all we have is people talking about these issues and giving us their spare bucks to keep the sites running. Thank you :-)

     

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    daz, Dec 8th, 2008 @ 6:57pm

    if thats a picture of child sexual abuse I'm a monkeys uncle

     

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    Gabriel, Dec 9th, 2008 @ 12:06am

    Hmmm… the IWF attempts to stamp out child pornography by going after an image of a decades-old album cover. Which does nothing to stop the creation or distribution of actual child porn, instead inconveniencing significant numbers of law-abiding folks and preventing them from editing any Wikipedia articles.

    I was struck by the parallels to EA's use of SecuROM. EA attempts to stamp out piracy of their games by bundling an intrusive DRM scheme. Which does nothing to stop the creation or distribution of pirated versions of their games, instead inconveniencing significant numbers of law-abiding folks who paid for the game in the first place.

    Today's technology world is rife with these kinds of teachable moments, for those with eyes to see and ears to hear.

    Oh, and apparently the IWF must have been unaware of the Streisand Effect until just now. Another one of those teachable moments.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 9th, 2008 @ 4:07am

    So, you want to block eBay, Amazon, 80% of the blogs that covered this image, a bunch of forums who discussed it and thousands of other sites because they dared show an image of an album cover that was available 30 years ago and has never been judged illegal? You also want to block any search engine that allows this perfectly legal (in the time and place it was produced - the cover was changed for commercial reasons, not legal ones) image to be found?

    Absolutely! I think they should ban this page as well;

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sarcasm

     

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