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Censorship Your Rights Online

Finnish Censorship Expanding 196

Thomas Nybergh lets us know about the secret list maintained by the Finnish National Bureau of Investigation, containing an estimated 1,700 foreign "child pornography'" sites. These are mostly in the US and the EU, and certainly not all of them contain child porn or even links to it. Finnish ISPs are required by law to block access to sites on the list, according to The Register. Finland's EFF has information about the block list, which reportedly includes a musical instrument store, a doll store, and a site of Windows tips in Thai. Recently added to the list — which by law should contain only child pornography sites — is the text-only site of a Finnish free-speech advocate who criticizes the censorship law. Evading the ISPs' block is trivial, of course.
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Finnish Censorship Expanding

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  • by Mr. Roadkill ( 731328 ) on Monday February 18, 2008 @11:01PM (#22470760)
    I work for a University, and we have a commercial web-filter to try to keep objectionable and time-wasting material off people's machines and out of labs.

    $WEB_FILTER_VENDOR has decided that [] belongs under "Adult/Sexually Explicit" - whereas it is, in fact, about a childrens' film festival. I've filed a report, and locally whitelisted it until they get around to doing something about it, but still... can you imagine what kind of damage could be done by a secret ISP-level list required by government, and the embarrassment associated with challenging such listings? Who would admit to saying they tried to view a site listed by the government as a child-porn site? Well, I would - if I knew for a fact that the listing was wrong - but most people aren't like me. I wonder what else, perhaps of a political nature, might make its way onto such lists?
  • by calebt3 ( 1098475 ) on Monday February 18, 2008 @11:07PM (#22470798)
    Problems occur when we start automating the identification process. Bots just aren't accurate enough, and humans just aren't fast enough.
  • Gay sites (Score:5, Insightful)

    by phorm ( 591458 ) on Monday February 18, 2008 @11:16PM (#22470846) Journal
    I notice also that a lot of the sites appear to be gay-oriented, and as least as far as the names go, don't indicate child content. I'm not going to click on them (who knows what *my* ISP is logging), but I do wonder if they're just in there because of somebody's dislike of that particular content.
  • by sys_mast ( 452486 ) on Monday February 18, 2008 @11:17PM (#22470850)
    How do you KNOW to complain if you are unable to view the site to confirm that it does not contain objectionable material? I know if I'm blocked by work/library/etc that I can go home, check, and complain if they block something OK. But here they are talking about the whole country.(ignoring workarounds)
  • by BeeBeard ( 999187 ) on Tuesday February 19, 2008 @12:05AM (#22471204)
    While I'm sure we all applaud your efforts at whitelisting an innocuous site, it begs the question of how much demand there really was to visit "" in the first place?*

    I raise this question not to criticize this particular site for not being more popular or well-known, but strictly to point out that it really is the ""s of the world that are most likely to be hurt by filters in a practically irreparable way that is also difficult to quantify: How many people, worldwide, tried to access the site before it will be whitelisted by this particular filter provider?

    Picture this: Somebody Google searches "children's festival," clicks on the aforementioned site, but it appears to be down. Or even worse, a warning message appears warning the user that they've just attempted to access sexually explicit material. "Well!" our hapless Google searcher says to themselves, "This is certainly not the family-friendly activity I had in mind!" and the search continues.

    The site has lost potential revenue because of the spam filter, sure. But even worse, now "littlebigshots" resonates in the mind of our Google searcher as just another porn site. It is nothing short of libel by proxy.

    So you can restore access to the site all you want (and again, it's a kind and responsible thing for you to do), but it doesn't fix the residual image problem that a miscategorized site may still have to cope with. This is a relatively new issue, and what I've been waiting for is the first case that's exactly on-point with this type of situation, to help sort out what kinds of rights and remedies a miscategorized plaintiff may have. So far, no good. I guess we'll just have to keep waiting.

    *(I'm not linking to it again because I'm sure they don't enjoy the unsolicited ./ web traffic.)
  • Re:Foriegners (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dgatwood ( 11270 ) on Tuesday February 19, 2008 @12:16AM (#22471284) Homepage Journal

    That is, of course, a mind-bogglingly fallacious argument, though I'm sure you're well aware of that.

    Based on what I've seen from phishing sites and other similarly illegal activity, I would suspect that most child porn sites (assuming they are not hosted in a country with lax laws on the subject) are either A. being hosted by somebody on a commercial server that hosts a truckload of sites and the person hosting them is hoping nobody will notice or B. being hosted on a cracked server.

    In the case of A., if you try to do an IP match, you'd get truckloads of "false positives"---sites that appear to link to a child porn site, but in fact link to Ned's Used Cars and Auto Emporium's website. If you don't do an IP match, though, you miss the case where somebody creates their own DNS record for a child porn site that doesn't support virtual hosts to get around the blocking lists, so you get lots of false negatives. Either way, you lose.

    In the case of B., it is probably safe to assume that 99.9% of those links existed prior to the site being hijacked to distribute child porn, and thus the owners of the site doing the linking would have no idea that the site was being used in that way, and thus should not be treated as though they were intentionally contributing to child porn.

    Further, in such cases, the main page of the compromised site almost certainly wouldn't have links to the offensive content, as this would tip off the owners of the compromised site. Thus, linking to the compromised site, with the exception of links to some specific part of the directory hierarchy, wouldn't be contributing to the spread of child porn at all....

    Even if a website intentionally links to porn-oriented sites that contain child porn, it is still not automatically reasonable to say that the linking site is promoting child porn unless either A. the website is linking directly to a child porn section or page on the site, or B. the primary focus of the destination website is child porn. If somebody uploaded a piece of child porn to Wikipedia, would everyone linking to Wikipedia be considered "contributing to the spread of child porn"? Why should any other website be treated differently even if it is a porn site? For that matter, if someone adds a link to a child porn site from a Wikipedia page, should Wikipedia be blocked? If the Finnish lawmakers don't have a damn good answer for these question, they need to seriously rethink this policy.

    And then, there's the question about the sites hosting the porn being listed themselves. Those IP numbers on the list might contain dozens of other unrelated websites. If the server was compromised, it might not even be appropriate to block the host by its domain name, as you might be blocking a legitimate business. The correct course of action is always to notify first, allow reasonable time for response (whether in the form of removal, photo ID proof of age, etc.), then block if circumstances warrant it. The same goes for suspected copyright violations, suspected phishing sites, etc.

  • by Dunbal ( 464142 ) on Tuesday February 19, 2008 @01:05AM (#22471588)
    Secondly... the point of this is that many of the sites *aren't* illegal

    True dat. What happens when the legal age for sexual consent is 14, and pictures of naked 14 year olds engaged in sexual acts are viewed by someone where the legal age of consent is 18? How are you going to make a case against the website that is doing nothing wrong in its country? Are you going to go after the person viewing the content? Then you can make the argument that how can you know what is on a website without seeing it first?
  • Re:Gay sites (Score:3, Insightful)

    by corbettw ( 214229 ) <corbettw@ y a h o o . com> on Tuesday February 19, 2008 @01:25AM (#22471692) Journal

    I do wonder if they're just in there because of somebody's dislike of that particular content.
    Strictly speaking, even if the site does contain child porn, it's still on the list because of someone's dislike for that content. Whether that dislike is well founded or not, and whether it serves a greater good to society to block it or not, are different questions entirely.
  • Re:Gay sites (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Capsaicin ( 412918 ) on Tuesday February 19, 2008 @02:56AM (#22472138)

    Strictly speaking, even if the site does contain child porn, it's still on the list because of someone's dislike for that content. Whether that dislike is well founded or not, and whether it serves a greater good to society to block it or not, are different questions entirely.

    A world of difference exists between the scenarios where something is banned on the basis of someone's arbitrary dislike of content and whether it is banned on the basis of duly enacted laws governing non-acceptable content. In a society governed by the rule of law the question of "[w]hether that dislike is well founded or not, and whether it serves a greater good to society" is not one properly left to nameless government bureaucrats. "Strictly speaking", the relevant question is whether the compilers of the list are giving proper expression to the legislative framework under which they labour.

  • by fastest fascist ( 1086001 ) on Tuesday February 19, 2008 @05:01AM (#22472628)
    No, no. You must kill all the adults. After all, no measure is too harsh if it protects the children.

    I think I know a couple of hundred Finnish ministers of parliament who constitute a clear and present danger to the children of Finland.
  • Mod parent up (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 19, 2008 @05:39AM (#22472754)
    Please mod the parent up. Despite the crude language, the poster is right: considering how concerned Finns are of what the foreigners think about us, one of the best strategies is to get the Times of London compare Finland to North Korea or another stereotype of an oppressive regime.
  • by fastest fascist ( 1086001 ) on Tuesday February 19, 2008 @06:15AM (#22472912)
    What you should do depends on what you find acceptable. If there was oversight, would you approve of this kind of censorship? If you would, then by all means, demand oversight.

    For me, the lack of oversight is a minor issue compared to the fact this system exists at all. I would be against it even if they got a court order for each and every site blocked. It would still be an extremely dangerous system. What happens if the government becomes corrupt? What happens if the nation destabilizes. Finland had a civil war once, it's not inconceivable that serious conflict could arise again. There are many scenarios where systems like this could be used by the ones who control them to oppress their opponents. Censorship shifts the balance of power yet more into the hands of the government, which leaves citizens increasingly vulnerable. The government is a hugely powerful machine, and as such is the number one potential enemy for the people it governs. Therefore extreme care must be taken not to give the government too many tools with which to control and monitor the lives of the governed.

    Note that for corruption of government you don't necessarely need the cunning bastard-dictator type to rise into power and throw all liberties away. Government is in many ways a lifeform in it's own right, indeed the whole legislative-bureaucratic system is designed to ensure the survival of the organism: the governmental system. It is safe to assume - even without individuals with grand, malicious plans - that governments, unchecked, will tend to obtain more and more power at the expense of the liberties of the citizens they govern. That is the nature of the beast.

    New laws are made all the time, but how many laws are decommissioned? This is why it is critical to take a pessimistic long-term view of the effects of decisions made in the short term. If a law can be abused, it will be abused, given enough time. If liberties are not fiercely defended, they will be lost. Not due to bad people, simply due to the laws of probability and the innate tendencies of governmental systems.
  • by MBGMorden ( 803437 ) on Tuesday February 19, 2008 @11:17AM (#22475008)
    I don't know about Finland, but in the US I certainly wouldn't consider it very wise to grab that list and "verify" what has Child Porn on it. False Positives that you identify are gonna be fine, but the minute you hit an actual Positive you've just committed a felony (no moral/ethical problem, just a legal one). It's a shame that we have to be afraid to check on stuff like this, but I'd not risk getting arrested over it.

    Personally, I think a much more sane law would be that it's illegal to PRODUCE child pornography, or to buy it (as those dollars go towards producing more of it), but if you're not making it or buying it then there shouldn't be an issue if you run across it on the web. That punishes everyone who had any hand in harming a specific child while not making the rest of us walk on broken glass while surfing the web.

If you think nobody cares if you're alive, try missing a couple of car payments. -- Earl Wilson