IWF classified a Wikipedia page as containing a pornographic image of a child. As a result UK ISP’s that participate in the cleanfeed program are now blocking access to the Wikipedia page of the band the Scorpions because of a controversial album cover that is potentially child pornography and thus illegal under UK law. The IWF states:
A Wikipedia web page, was reported through the IWF’s online reporting mechanism in December 2008. As with all child sexual abuse reports received by our Hotline analysts, the image was assessed according to the UK Sentencing Guidelines Council (page 109). The content was considered to be a potentially illegal indecent image of a child under the age of 18, but hosted outside the UK. The IWF does not issue takedown notices to ISPs or hosting companies outside the UK, but we did advise one of our partner Hotlines abroad and our law enforcement partner agency of our assessment. The specific URL (individual webpage) was then added to the list provided to ISPs and other companies in the online sector to protect their customers from inadvertent exposure to a potentially illegal indecent image of a child.
But why didn’t they just block access to the specific URL of the offending image? Instead they block the entire page, the text (and other images) of which are completely legal. There is no technical reason why they cannot block URLs to specific offending images in exactly the same way as they can block a specific Wikipedia page and not the entire Wikipedia site.
The IWF collects URLs that are potentially illegal for containing child pornography and sends them to participating ISP’s in the U.K. as part of the cleanfeed program. The ISPs then block access to these URLs. These URLs may be shared with other agencies through the IN HOPE network and possibly with commercial filtering companies as well. Canada has a similar cleanfeed program in which Cyberip collects the potentially illegal URLs and send them to Canadian ISPs who then block access to them. One of the main why cleanfeed has been successful and replicated in oher countries is that it was supposed to elegantly avoid the pitfall of overblocking, the key objection that was consistently raised civil libertarians and others with respect to filtering. This is why filtering at the URL level is so important: one offending page can be blocked while the rest of the site remains available.
One of the questions I’ve often raised (in the Canadian context) concerns what precisely is blocked. We know that cleanfeed systems can block at the URL level, so why block access to the web page containing the offending image and not the the URL to the offending image itself? There is no technical reason for not doing so. If IWF added the URL to the specific offending image embedded in the Scorpions Wikipedia page the text of the article, which is perfectly legal, along with all the other legal images would still be available. Only the one offending image would have been blocked.
For a system that was designed to not overblock I find it hard to understand why they don’t the specific offending images. If an entire website was devoted to showing images of child abuse then it would be understandable, but Wikipedia?