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Founder of UK ISP Timico Warns Against Website Blocking and Slams IWF Failings

Posted: 09th Nov, 2010 By: MarkJ
timico uk ispThe Chief Technology Officer (CTO) and Co-Founder of business ISP Timico UK, Trefor Davies, has warned politicians not to "latch on to the notion of being able to control and block the internet". He also singled out the Internet Watch Foundation's ( IWF ) solution, which works with ISPs to block child abuse content online and is frequently cited as an example of how such a system could operate, for not really working at all.

Mr Davies was speaking after his attendance at last week's round table event on music licensing and the internet, which was chaired by the government's Minister of Communications, Ed Vaizey.

The issues discussed included development of the controversial Digital Economy Act 2010 (DEA), the complexity of music licensing (scalability and costs for all parties) and whether ISPs could do more to tackle websites that promoted "illegal" (i.e. unlawful) p2p file sharing (e.g. blocking, lower search engine rankings via Google etc.)

Timico's CTO, Trefor Davies, said:

"The Internet Watch Foundation is always cited as a perfect example of how internet blocking can work. The IWF provides ISPs with a list of websites containing illegal child abuse material. These sites are reported to the IWF by general internet users and by ISPs themselves. ISPs then implement blocking techniques (there are various) to prevent their customers from being able to access these sites.

Unfortunately although this sounds great in practice it doesn’t really work. Sure joe public is prevented from accidentally accessing such sites but the dedicated sicko can easily find was around the blocking [ED: DNS change, proxy servers, VPN etc]. Just like it will be impossible to block the millions of web pages out there relating to how to use Bit Torrent and other file sharing technologies to download copyrighted material. It is too big a job."

In fairness the idea of using an IWF style filter would probably be aimed at internet censorship for those who lack the technical know-how to get around such restrictions (i.e. reducing casual piracy). However as Davies reminds, the line between right and wrong could easily become blurred.

Trefor Davies concluded:


"And this is aside from the key question of where do you draw the line? At the extreme end of the spectrum we could find the ConDem government banning access to Labour Party websites. OK sounds unlikely doesn’t it but how about a left wing revolutionary group promoting violent agitation? Hmm maybe? Where is the line in between?

Hopefully you can then begin to unerstand the context of why we shouldn’t let politicians decide to try and manipulate the internet for what is essentially the private gain of an industry sector they have taken a pet interest in."

It's also worth mentioning that the IWF's filter, despite having easily the best of intentions, can also indirectly cause technical problems and unfair website access restrictions across various different ISPs almost every day of the week. Most people will remember when access to Wikipedia was restricted due to how the IWF's system is implemented (here).

Thankfully the Wikipedia event happened all the way back in 2008. However less popular but still perfectly legitimate websites do frequently run into problems with IWF filter using ISP's, which try to block a specific page or image and end up hampering access to the entire site. Websites that host user content and files, such a Rapidshare and Megaupload, are often those who suffer the most. These problems do get fixed but in some cases that can take awhile.

As before, it's easy to circumvent such filtering and sadly abusers know this too. On the other hand we'd much rather have an easy to avoid system than one that unfairly disconnects entire businesses and families from the internet, which is threatened by the DEA.

At least it'll give the politicians some peace of mind through an illusion of control, until they realise what Iran and China already have, that internet content cannot be completely controlled by a single state.
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