Should Internet Censors Be Responsible For Breaking Stuff?

from the important-questions dept

In the wake of the UK Internet Watch Foundation’s block of a particular Wikipedia page for what it claimed was illegal child pornography, and the group’s subsequent reversal of that decision, the EFF is now asking will IWF be held responsible for the unintended consequences of its unregulated ability to ban websites? In this case, the action lead to a chain of events that blocked a significant number of UK Wikipedia users from being able to edit any page on the site. The EFF points out that the IWF’s reversal on the ban was for all the wrong reasons: rather than it being because the image was old or widespread — the group never should have put up the ban in the first place, recognizing that Wikipedia’s open group review process is a lot more effective than IWF’s arbitrary and secretive process.

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Comments on “Should Internet Censors Be Responsible For Breaking Stuff?”

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Alan says:


One of the interesting side-efects raised by the proposed filtering of Internet access in Australia is the issue of redress if a perfectly legitimate business site is flagged and blocked by a false-positive from the filters. Since they would be government-mandated filters, would the government be liable for damages? However, they are imnplemented and serviced by the ISP, so would the ISP be held responsible? I opens a whole new can of worms which is one of the reasons most ISPs are against the whole idea.

Anonymous Coward says:

Censorship as with say religion or countless other examples, should be an opt-in issue, not a hidden opt-out via-proxy option.

If you find something to be offensive don’t take part in it, either by strength of will or by enclosing yourself in an isolated world with firewalls and precautionary devices. If it is truly worth tackling the issue, attack it at its source.. the courts be it legal or those of public opinion will judge you on your actions.

Toshio says:

Wrong question to ask...

I think EFF really missed the mark this time together with large swaths of blogosphere. IWF is not filtering anything, rather it is just providing interested ISPs informative list. It is up to the ISPs to choose to censor and what technical means to use for censoring.

IWF is no more and no less accountable than your run-of-the-mill UCE/UBE RBL. It has policies of its own, it does what unnamed people think is the best for internet at large and it makes gathered information available for consumption. It has no network, servers or customers of its own. It is completely up to ISPs to actually act on information given.

So the whole fiasco was caused by inadequate technical measures used to filter out what ISPs elected to filter out. Lashing out against IWF serves no practical purpose, because they are no more or less evil to freedom of speech than any other e-mail RBL list(*). Customers and EFF should in this case lash out against ISPs which actually do the censoring based on a list that might or might not be appropriate for use.

The only think that is bugging me is EFF asking the wrong question. Usually they hit the mark, but this time they managed to completely miss the obvious – ISPs are the censors, IWF is just the means. Lashing against IFW is just like lashing against SORBS, just because some e-mail server operator decided to censor e-mail based on the contents of that list.

(*) Spamhaus excluded. These guys take every effort to be transparent, reachable and accountable.

Chronno S. Trigger says:

Re: Wrong question to ask...

So you’re saying that it’s the ISPs fault for not filtering the filter? Isn’t that the whole point of getting a filter list from a professional company, so you don’t have to search threw a few thousand (million?) addresses to see if they are truly bad?

Ether way, I think that it’s the ISPs fault for filtering in the first place. I say that a white list needs to be made and provided to homes, not ISPs. That way everyone who wants their internet filtered can do it themselves. And this whole thing should be payed for by those assholes who keep yelling “Think of the children”

Toshio says:

Re: Re: Wrong question to ask...

I see nothing wrong with “About the children”. I also think that certain forms of parental control are better implemented at ISP – on request of the customer that is. Children usually find a way of avoiding home-based filtering, while ISP based, if properly implemented, can be much tougher to circumvent.

However, I would be asking ISPs why are they using technical means that cause so much collateral damage. In these times of DPI boxes all over the place, I would think it would be quite feasible to filter out single page or single image, without redirecting all web site traffic through the transparent proxy.

At the time when most of the same ISPs toy around and throw serious money at DPI solutions for limiting/preventing P2P traffic, I find it intolerable to get such half-baked crappy solution for something that actually has a benefit to public at large.

Wold there be a backlash if it would turn out that only single page is filtered, but nothing else would have been affected? I don’t think so. So I think that ISPs failed at number 1 priority of every business: cater to your customers. They failed because they used a solution that caused too much collateral damage. It was bound to happen and I only wonder how come it didn’t happen earlier. IWF IMHO just provided that last straw that broke he camel’s back. Considering they had 100% success rate until now goes a long way in disproving that “arbitrary decision” argument.

Yes, they should be more transparent, but nobody so far thought about it: to be transparent in this case means to publish “Collected works of child porn depravity on web”. I think in this case it might actually be in public interest not to publicize contents fo this list.

Yes, they should also be accountable, and I think they are. They took a decision. They didn’t hide when evidence came. They rethought the decision. They listened to new arguments. They changed their decision based on new facts they were previously unaware of. I think this is probably as transparent and as accountable as it can be in cases like these.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Wrong question to ask...

A few points:

– Yes, there’s nothing wrong with “for the children” in the first place in theory, but this isn’t the way to protect them. The very methodology is flawed, and the resources would be best used going after those responsible for creating objectionable content than trying to filter it (accurate filtering is like trying to empty the Great Lakes using a straw. it’s theoretically possible, but you’ll never do it).

– ISPs use these lists because they have plausible deniability. The “for the children” campaigners mean that they have to be seen as doing something. Nothing they do will ever be 100% accurate, so if they use a 3rd party list they can at least say “it’s not our fault, we used a trusted source”. If people weren’t trying to blame them for pedophiles having access to material instead of going after those responsible, they probably wouldn’t bother.

“Yes, they should be more transparent, but nobody so far thought about it: to be transparent in this case means to publish “Collected works of child porn depravity on web”.”

Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t. But, if the content truly is illegal, they then have a nice list of addresses that can be used to track and prosecute those responsible. Maybe seize a couple and use them as “honeypots” to capture the people responsible for making the content in the first place. That would protect far more children than hiding the content (with barriers that won’t stop a reasonably tech-savvy pervert to begin with).

There’s another question – why should ISPs be policing this in the first place? You don’t expect the post office to be responsible for opening mail to see if child porn is being sent (in fact, mail tempering is a crime). You don’t expect the phone company to monitor phone calls for the same, or. Why do you expect an ISP to do that?

Toshio says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Wrong question to ask...

I agree with 1st point. Accurate filtering is next to impossible. Best we can get is limited possibility of accidental exposure. It’s not ideal and it does not even touch the real distribution channels, but when implemented properly, shuld provide benefit.

I also agree with the 2nd point: ISPs are just giving lip service or minimum effort. In this case this causes more problems than it’s worth. That’s also the main reason I’m angry with them: they invest countless thousands or even millions of $$$ to hide their infrastructure deficencies when faced with P2P, but they spend minimal time & effort for projects that might actually benefit the public.

As far as the list goes, I would think that police and other interested parties probably have full access. I don’t know that, but it would sound logical. Just as it would sound logical, that the content of the list probably describes countries and territories outside of UK & developed juristictions in general.

The last question is probably the most important. Why should an ISP decide to filter anything. You can take analogy with Post Office (Royal Mail) which can not lawfully open any package. On the other hand, you might take the analogy with Customs Office. Their job is to inspect post from suspicious places (like searching for illegal skin imports, etc.) Is is a good analogy? I don’t know: it might be or it might not be. I think ISP plays both roles: PO an Customs. While it’s hard to see why would somebody want to open domestic mail (traffic), there might be reasons to open foreign mail (traffic). At least it seems that the world is going in that direction.

I don’t think I like that, tough. I’m no fan of governments running great firewalls, just like I’m no fan of private businesses doing the dirty work for governments. But I do see the world where even western style democracies start to look at this issue as a matter of sovereignty. Just look for Italian PM Berlusconi in 2009 when Italy presides the G8.

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