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UPDATE: Six UK ISPs Restrict Wikipedia Access Following Child Porn Blacklist

Posted: 07th Dec, 2008 By: MarkJ
Six UK ISPs, including O2 (Be Broadband), Virgin Media, Easynet, Plusnet, Demon and TalkTalk (Carphone Warehouse, Opal), have restricted access to Wikipedia after the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) added part of the site to its block list.

The filters were applied after concerns were raised over the publication of a controversial historical album cover for the 1976 record of the Scorpions - titled 'Virgin Killer', which is still widely available and features a semi-nude underage girl. However, according to a Wikinews item, the method employed has had wider ramifications:

The measures applied redirect traffic for a significant portion of the UK's Internet population through six servers which can log and filter the content that is available to the end user. A serious side-effect of this is the inability of administrators on Wikimedia sites to block vandals and other troublemakers without potentially impacting hundreds of thousands of innocent contributors who are contributing to the sites in good faith.

Contributors or individuals attempting to view an affected image or file, depending on their ISP, may get a warning saying, "we have blocked this page because, according to the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), it contains indecent images of children or pointers to them; you could be breaking UK law if you viewed the page.". Other ISPs provide blank pages, 404 errors, or other means of blocking the content.

The problem stems from ISPs that rout Wikipedia traffic through transparent proxies, a common method that helps to ease the bandwidth burden upon ISPs and manage http traffic. However a side effect of this is that thousands of users from a single ISP can appear to come from the same IP (Internet Protocol) address.

The result is that if Wikipedia tries to ban a single user by their IP, usually for abuse when contributing or editing new or old content, then everybody from that same ISP will find their access restricted. To conclude, the IWF may have succeeded in preventing access to the specific content, though at the same time ISPs have inadvertently prevented millions from contributing to Wikipedia.

There is also the separate debate about whether or not it was right to block said content and or other pictures like it. The imagery itself has been controversial for many years and those that view it will have little difficulty in understanding why. Equally many ISPs employ transparent proxies; it is by no means evil but does have a few drawbacks (as above).

What the situation does show is just how dynamically content filtering can impact the Internet, blocking may seem simple but it can often have unintended and far reaching consequences. Presently the IWF has not commented on its actions, while the Wikimedia Foundation remains adamant that it “does not censor” and has so far left the content online.

UPDATE - 8th December 2008 08:09am:

The IWF has since issued the following statement to its website, though it only confirms the action that has been taken:

A Wikipedia web page, was reported through the IWF’s online reporting mechanism in December 2008. As with all child sexual abuse reports received by our Hotline analysts, the image was assessed according to the UK Sentencing Guidelines Council (page 109). The content was considered to be a potentially illegal indecent image of a child under the age of 18, but hosted outside the UK.

The IWF does not issue takedown notices to ISPs or hosting companies outside the UK, but we did advise one of our partner Hotlines abroad and our law enforcement partner agency of our assessment. The specific URL (individual webpage) was then added to the list provided to ISPs and other companies in the online sector to protect their customers from inadvertent exposure to a potentially illegal indecent image of a child.

In addition we now understand that customers of BSkyB (Sky Broadband) are also experiencing the same block notice when attempting to edit, remove or add Wiki content.
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