Europe makes moves towards Internet censorship

By , IDG News Service |  Tech & society, Tech & society

A debate over the use of internet filtering is heating up in Europe, with privacy advocates and carriers going head to head with authorities.

In Finland programmer Matti Nikki is under investigation for publishing a secret
list of domains that authorities had allegedly censored in an effort to stop
the spread of child pornography. Nikki published his list to prove the system
was being abused, and was himself censored as a result. The Finnish Chancellor
of Justice has received a complaint about police handling of the matter.

The authorities distribute their list to the country's twenty largest Internet
service providers, which then block access to the sites. The rest of Finland's
200 ISPs haven't implemented the technology, so protection is far from complete.

The problem with filtering is that it is a very blunt tool, according to Swedish
Internet activist Oscar Swartz.

"I have seen the list Nikki published and it includes links to sites with
regular pornography, so they shouldn't be censored," said Swartz.

The Finnish police force is aware of the problems with filtering.

"The technology we currently use works well with sites that only include
child pornography. To filter sites with a mixture of content we need to use
other technologies as well," said Lars Henriksson, chief superintendent
at the National Bureau of Investigation.

Finland isn't the only country where the temperature is rising. Danish authorities
recently decided to block file-sharing site Pirate Bay, after pressure from
the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI). ISP Tele2
decided to fight the court order. They are so far the only ISP that has been
ordered to shut off access to The Pirate Bay, but IFPI has plans to expand the
blocking.

Other organizations are starting to show an interest in the use of filtering,
including mobile network operators. They are banding together to combat the
distribution of child pornography.

"We are here to tackle a very disturbing and damaging phenomenon,"
said Craig Ehrlich, chairman of the GSM Association, a group of mobile network
operators, launching the initiative at a conference in Barcelona last week.

The use of emotive issues to justify the introduction or extension of censorship
worries some.

"It's easy to ignore the negative aspects of filtering and censorship
when talking about something so universally disliked as child pornography,"
said Swartz.

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