A coalition of child protection charities have proposed that the implementation of the Internet Watch Foundation’s blacklist should be made compulsory (Ars Technica – UK charities: make IWF Web blacklist 100% compulsory for ISPs). Interestingly, this comes a few days after an objection to the IWF’s charitable status has been made.
"Over 700,000 households in the UK can still get uninterrupted and easy access to illegal child abuse image sites," said advisor Zoe Hilton in a statement yesterday. "Allowing this loophole helps to feed the appalling trade in images which feature real children being seriously sexually assaulted. We now need decisive action from the government to ensure the Internet Service Providers that are still refusing to block this foul material are forced to fall into line. Self-regulation on this issue is obviously failing-and in a seriously damaging way for children."
Well, Zoe, I am one of those households who appears to have access, easy or otherwise, to an uncensored internet. And, no, I don’t look at dodgy child abuse sites, and I wonder what proportion of those 700.000 households do. I just prefer not to have a censored internet which leads to collateral blocking of websites. It’s not immediately obvious how effective the IWF blacklist is:
Rory Cellan-Jones of the BBC blogged about this very issue Tuesday, talking with Cambridge computer scientist Richard Clayton about the good that an IWF-style blacklist can do. Clayton noted that the system doesn’t stop the casual or inadvertent browsing of child abuse images because such browsing doesn’t actually happen; the people who see this material seek it out, generally at hidden or for-pay sites. And simple URL blacklists are unlikely to stop such people from accessing the images.
"This material tends to be held on paid-for sites or is held by people who don’t publish it to the world because they don’t want to get arrested," he said. "Everybody thinks they’ve done something by blocking this stuff but in practice it makes very little difference to who sees it and it’s quite expensive."
Personally, I find it offensive that internet users are thought of as guilty by default, that a group of four apparently barely trained individuals are empowered to ban pages and entire websites, and that the preferred strategy is to block access to images rather than go after the perpetrators of child abuse crimes. And as Richard Clayton points out in the quote above, it probably doesn’t work anyway.
See also: Will we see changes at the Internet Watch Foundation?, written in the aftermath of the Scorpions LP sleeve fiasco (which removed edit access to Wikipedia to a huge tranche of UK internet users, and the blockage of the Wayback machine to some IWF implementing ISPs.