(Link via Random Acts of Reality.)
Wired UK: The hidden censors of the internet.
Journey with us to a state where an unaccountable panel of censors vets 95 per cent of citizens’ domestic internet connections. The content coming into each home is checked against a mysterious blacklist by a group overseen by nobody, which keeps secret the list of censored URLs not just from citizens, but from internet service providers themselves. And until recently, few in that country even knew the body existed. Are we in China? Iran? Saudi Arabia? No – the United Kingdom, in 2009. This month, we ask: Who watches the Internet Watch Foundation?
The Internet Watch Foundation as described in this article is creepy. The fact the Home Office refused to talk to Wired about the IWF, and also refused their Freedom of Information Act requests is worrisome. The IWF is a charity, but it has 13 employees and no volunteers, and is based in a a Cambridgeshire housing estate. It gets money from the EU, from the UK Government, and from ISPs, who get an encrypted blacklist of URLs in return. They implement the whole list, or none at all. And the IWF decides what goes on the list.
The original remit of the IWF was to find images of child abuse. Wired questions whether a website blacklist is the right approach given that these images move off websites and onto peer to peer networks. The lack of oversight and accountability bothers me. I understand you need to keep the blacklist secure, or the perpetrators will just move the images, but should 13 people be solely responsible for censoring 95% of the net access for Britain? There is a Dutch version of the IWF, and their blacklist mistakenly included the URL for a haulage company. How would you go about getting that corrected when the list of URLs is encrypted, and when hardly anyone knows about the blacklist?
Censorship is a tricky issue. You want to protect minors, and images of child abuse are illegal. Those who upload the images should be held responsible for their actions. But is blanket censorship done without the public’s knowledge the way to go?