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By: MarkJ - 11 January, 2011 (12:37 PM)
european union map flagThe European Internet Services Providers Association (EuroISPA) has called on the European Parliament to consider permanently removing internet based child sexual abuse content at source, which would be instead of forcing EU and UK ISPs into merely filtering out (blocking) such material. The latter would only provide a merely cosmetic appearance of having done something useful and is easily circumvented.

EuroISPA believes that removing abuse material at source is the "only" effective "technical measure" that can actually work. It proceeds to state that the alternative use of blocking still allows the content to remain online and available for use by those who present a real danger to children.

The organisation also correctly points out that paedophiles and similar child predators "make it their business to know how to circumvent blocks" and continue to copy and share images, so facilitating the re-victimization phenomenon that blocking is meant to address.

Malcolm Hutty, President of EuroISPA, said:

"In order to make the Directive on child sexual exploitation as strong as possible, emphasis must be placed on making swift notice and take down of child sexual abuse material focused and effective.

Blocking, as an inefficient measure, should be avoided. Law enforcement authorities’ procedures for rapid communication to Internet Hosting Providers of such illegal material must be reviewed and bottlenecks eliminated."

The EuroISPA is at least likely to gain a sympathetic ear from several MEP's, whom last November 2010 (here) warned that "blocking does not seem to be very efficient" at all. Some MEP's also pointed to how a website for a campaign against child pornography had twice been blocked in the Netherlands as a result of such filters.

Here in the UK the vast majority of consumer ISPs already adopt a similar filter through the Internet Watch Foundation ( IWF ), which is equally easy to circumvent and only provides a surface illusion of security. The cache systems used by some ISPs have also been known to conflict with IWF filters, often causing access to legitimate websites to be hampered (albeit still easy to circumvent).

However, removing content at the source is also fraught with difficulty, especially when the servers are based outside of your jurisdiction. Never the less, politicians often find it difficult to understand that the only true power to censor internet content does not rest with access providers but the specific servers that host such material.

An ISP might cover your eyes but anybody can still take the blindfold off.

UPDATE 17th January 2011

A comment from UK ISP Entanet has been added below.

Neil Watson, Head of Entanet's Service Operations, said:

"Whilst we completely agree that children should not be able to easily access such content, the responsibility for protecting their access should lie firmly with parents and guardians. ISPs already provide a number of parental control tools to help with this and it’s the Government’s duty to educate families (potentially with ISPs’ help) on safe practices. Suggesting a blanket block is ludicrous and to expect adults to ‘opt in’ via their ISP is equally ridiculous and completely unfeasible.

In conclusion, we agree that these issues need to be tackled and that protecting children should be a top priority. However, we have a number of concerns surrounding the latest proposals. Whilst we agree that the complete removal of websites containing child pornography etc is better than simply blocking them, we also feel that strict controls need to be put in place to protect the innocent. That is, removal only following a police investigation not simply based on potentially unreliable filters and watch lists. We also agree with EuroISPA that international agreements need to be forged to simplify and speed up these legal processes.

Additionally we agree that these filters should be maintained on an EU member state basis, not as an EU wide blanket filter which would be difficult to manage; would not consider differing sensitivities across member states; and could be open to abuse as competing states fight for political power. We also support the idea of anonymous hotlines to help the authorities identify offending sites quickly and easily, subject to further information on the responsibilities for managing these.

On the subject of blanket blocking legal pornography under the remit of protecting children from accidentally accessing this content, we find the current proposals to be completely unworkable and open to abuse."

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