Will the IWF make the Internet Safer?

{ Posted on May 08 2009 by Neil Watson }
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Categories : Featured, Privacy, Security

Many see the Internet Watch Foundation’s (IWF) block list as an important step in the fight against child exploitation online. The IWF block list is an extensive list of websites that contravene UK law many of which contain inappropriate images of children. The block list has been utilised by 95% of UK ISPs as a method of censoring offensive content from end users. The remaining 5% of UK ISPs are facing increasing pressure from the government and several charities to implement the list. So why haven’t they?

neilwatson Will the IWF make the Internet Safer?

Neil Watson, Technical Support Manager

The remaining 5% is made up of primarily ISPs with smaller budgets. The high cost of the technology used to filter the offensive content therefore provides them with a moral dilemma. In addition their decision is complicated by concerns over the accuracy of the IWF list. Late last year a Wikipedia page was blocked due to an inappropriate image used on an album cover. This resulted in several users’ access to innocent Wikipedia pages being blocked.

For its part, Entanet fully appreciates the importance of protecting children from exploitation and fully supports the IWF’s intentions. However like many other ISPs we have concerns over the accuracy of the methods used to identify offending sites.

There are also concerns over the effectiveness of the IWF list. Paedophiles with minimal technical knowledge can easily circumnavigate the list to gain access to and distribute illegal images. So is it really worthwhile and will it make a difference?

The IWF and their supporting childrens’ charities believe it will. They admit that determined offenders will find ways around the system but insist that the list is effective as it eliminates risk of accidental exposure. The NSPCC says that paedophilia can start with accidental exposure and curiosity and they believe the IWF list will help to reduce this.

However, the choice may soon be taken away from the remaining 5%. The IWF list is currently a voluntary option but the EU is proposing new directives that would force all UK (and European) ISPs to block access to websites disseminating child pornography.

The UK has been at the forefront of combating this issue with many other European countries now playing catch up. For example Cleanfeed, the content blocking system implemented by BT has been in operation since 2004, while Germany only announced plans to develop its own block list in January 2009. However, Entanet has concerns over the accuracy of Cleanfeed and other similar technologies. Cleanfeed blocks access to suspect sites by blocking the IP address which stops the user accessing the entire website and any other websites using the same IP address. This is what happened to Wikipedia. Instead of one offending page within the Wikipedia site being blocked users were unable to access any Wikipedia pages.

Not to be outdone, Australia has taken it one step further with a comprehensive list that allegedly blocks a lot more than just child pornography. This is the real moral concern for many people. Where exactly does child protection end and government censorship start? Once a mandatory censorship procedure is implemented, how easily can it expand to cover other areas that the government deem are not suitable for public viewing and will we end up with a fully censored Internet? I hope not.

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