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Internet Watch Foundation U-Turns on Wikipedia Block

Posted: 10th Dec, 2008 By: MarkJ
The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) has done a u-turn on its widely reported censorship of Wikipedia content (original news). The block was originally imposed to prevent Wiki viewers from seeing an Album cover, which featured an underage girl posing nude. Unfortunately its implementation had the undesirable effect of preventing UK wiki users from altering any content on the site:

IWF Statement:

Following representations from Wikipedia, IWF invoked its Appeals Procedure and has given careful consideration to the issues involved in this case. The procedure is now complete and has confirmed that the image in question is potentially in breach of the Protection of Children Act 1978. However, the IWF Board has today (9 December 2008) considered these findings and the contextual issues involved in this specific case and, in light of the length of time the image has existed and its wide availability, the decision has been taken to remove this webpage from our list.

Any further reported instances of this image which are hosted abroad, will not be added to the list. Any further reported instances of this image which are hosted in the UK will be assessed in line with IWF procedures.

IWF’s overriding objective is to minimise the availability of indecent images of children on the internet, however, on this occasion our efforts have had the opposite effect. We regret the unintended consequences for Wikipedia and its users. Wikipedia have been informed of the outcome of this procedure and IWF Board’s subsequent decision.

The news will bring to an end any technical problems that were caused by ISPs implementing the block, though no doubt the debate about whether the content itself is allowable shall continue.

The Wikimedia Foundation, which oversees Wikipedia, has since issued a standard response welcoming the blocks removal. They also call for greater oversight of organisations such as the IWF and similar bodies:

"We are grateful to the IWF for making this swift decision, and to thousands of internet users from around the world for their outpouring of support," said Sue Gardner, Executive Director of the Wikimedia Foundation. "Millions of Britons now have access to all of Wikipedia, and volunteers can resume their important editing work. The Wikimedia Foundation greatly admires the work of our volunteers - they care deeply about Wikipedia and are the first responders in dealing with potentially illegal content on Wikipedia."

Mike Godwin, General Counsel for the Wikimedia Foundation stated: "We recognize the good intentions of Internet watch groups, including their focus on blocking and discouraging illegal content. Nevertheless, this incident underscores the need for transparency and accountability in the processes of the Internet Watch Foundation and similar bodies around the world."

Added Godwin, "In the long run, monitoring groups need to develop a public set of 'best practices'. These best practices should, at a minimum, decrease the impact on content found to be lawful, acknowledge the context in which the content at issue occurs, and be maximally transparent both to service providers and to individual users. There should be no false or misleading error messages when online censorship does occur."

It's understood that UK Wikipedia editors account for over 25% of all editing activity on the English Wikipedia. Wikipedia itself is effectively an online encyclopaedia, which allows ordinary surfers to help maintain and make its content. The site, while not always accurate, is vast and extremely popular.
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