Broadband providers BT and TalkTalk have adjusted their voluntary blocking of online child abuse websites by replacing the old generic error messages with a more descriptive warning, which shows to anybody whom attempts to access related internet pages.
The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), which maintains a list of related webpages hosted in the United Kingdom, currently works with most of the country’s primary ISPs to ensure that related websites and pages are removed at source (by web hosts) or blocked from view (by internet access providers).
IWF Blocking (Good Practice)
The IWF and its Members promote policies and practices in order to adhere to the principles of self-regulation and transparency. Blocking access to child sexual abuse content by our Members is carried out on a voluntary basis and is a short-term disruption tactic which works alongside the removal of content at source whilst police investigators collect the evidence they require to investigate offenders or identify and rescue the victims from sexual abuse.
Whilst the IWF facilitates this blocking initiative through the provision of a URL list and does not stipulate which blocking method is used, we do provide good practice guidance regarding the way in which blocking is conducted. These recommendations are designed to maintain the principle of transparency and minimise over-blocking and latency issues:
• Blocking should be carried out on a URL-specific basis and not at domain level
• We oblige those taking the list to regularly test and certify whether their blocking solution is effective at preventing access to content
• We recommend the use of a specific splash page when users’ requests for web pages on the list are denied*
• We subject the process of URL inclusion on the list to independent inspection
• We provide a robust complaints process allowing anyone to appeal against the inclusion of a URL on the list
Until recently the internet filtering systems used by broadband ISPs to block these sites would either return a warning message about related webpages being unreachable or the site itself would simply stop trying to load and throw up your web browsers own error page.
But the likelihood that internet filtering systems will soon become more common (here), and have a wider remit, means that ISPs now need to start getting more descriptive about the reasons for each block. As a result the DailyMail reports that BT and now TalkTalk have begun to inform those visiting such sites that “access has been denied… because this page may contain indecent images of children as identified by the IWF“.
The New Blocking Message (403: Access Denied)
Access has been denied by your internet access provider because this page may contain indecent images of children as identified by the Internet Watch Foundation. If you think this page has been blocked in error please contact [your service provider].
In theory, if done properly, then this should be a good thing because the government’s proposed solution (Active Choice Plus) for toughening internet censorship by forcing ISPs to adopt new Parental Controls and network-level filtering will also be designed to give customers a selection of categories that they can choose to block (e.g. porn, social networking, file sharing etc.).
As a result this could help consumers to identify when the selection of a specific category has resulted in access to a legal website being unfairly restricted. However it should be said that so far BT and TalkTalk have only changed the message for content blocked through the IWF and it remains to be seen whether a similar solution will be adopted alongside the forthcoming Parental Controls (we hope it is).
Speaking of Parental Controls, major ISPs and internet content giants (Google, Microsoft etc.) will today meet with the UK government’s culture secretary, Maria Miller, to discuss how best to clamp down on “harmful material” online (here).
But many people, such as the boss of AAISP Adrian Kennard (here), remain concerned about both the potentially wide definitional of “harmful” (news / health sites and facebook etc. could all be blocked) and the ineffectiveness of such filters. The lack of protection for perfectly legal websites from unlawful censorship by commercial ISPs is also a big concern.
Clarified some details about the IWF’s rules and added the new blocking message in full.