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UK Government Seeking to Expand Website Blocking Remit Through IWF

Posted: 09th Jun, 2011 By: MarkJ
iwf-logo-headline.jpgThe UK Internet Watch Foundation ( IWF ), which already works with most consumer broadband ISPs to block websites that contain child sexual abuse content, could soon see its "voluntary" remit extended to include internet sites that contain "violent and unlawful" content.

The proposals were outlined in the UK HomeOffice's latest anti-terrorism Prevent Strategy report, which was released earlier this week.

Prevent Strategy Report - Quote

Internet filtering across the public estate is essential. We want to ensure that users in schools, libraries, colleges and Immigration Removal Centres are unable to access unlawful material. We will continue to work closely with DfE, BIS, the CTIRU, Regional Broadband Consortia and the filtering industry.

We want to explore the potential for violent and unlawful URL lists to be voluntarily incorporated into independent national blocking lists, including the list operated by the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF).

Few right-minded people could have any serious objection to the principal of blocking either child sexual abuse content or websites that clearly contain terrorist material. However, the report also mentions "unlawful" URL's (websites), which crosses into somewhat murkier depths. It doesn't take much for "unlawful" to include guides about home firework / rocket building and so forth.

The UK government and broadband ISPs are already known to be working on a new Voluntary Code of Practice to block any website that is deemed to "facilitate" internet copyright infringement (here). ISPs are quite rightly worried about the costs of doing this and they don't want to cut-off websites without an impartial judge being brought in to asses each case.

Another problem stems from the effectiveness of such solutions. The report claims that internet filtering solutions make it so that users are "unable to access unlawful material", which is incorrect. ISP's have limited control to physically remove or block content that does not exist within their own network, at least not without preventing all HTTP (web browsing) traffic, and as a result such filters can be easily circumvented (VPN, DNS changes, Proxy Servers etc.).

None of this is to say that the government shouldn't work with the IWF to extend such powers, although we should be very careful about how far it goes and recognise that it is not a solution to the problem. Those they're trying to prevent will usually be clever enough to work their way around such limits and in so doing would become even more undetectable than before.
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