IWF revoked its decision to block access to Wikipedia…. I will write soon a commentary on this but Who Watches the Watchmen? I thought courts of law decide on matters to do with legality or illegality. This is no more than “privatized censorship” in the absence of due process.
It is worth reading their (very recently amended) appeals procedure which states at the end that “If the complainant appeals against the reassessment decision the assessment on whether the content is potentially illegal according to the relevant UK legislation made by senior managers in CEOP or the Metropolitan Police will be final.”
Apparently they have not heard about due process or about the possibility of an appeal to a court of law. The IWF nor the police have the “power” to “block access” to any website. They are not “empowered by law” to block access to websites and there are no legal measures under UK law which provide “blocking as a preventative measure”.
It is now the right time to discuss these matters more openly and publicly scrutinize the role of the IWF. [Blog entry by Yaman Akdeniz]
IWF statement regarding Wikipedia webpage: “IWF statement regarding Wikipedia webpage
IWF LogoA Wikipedia webpage was reported through the IWF’s online reporting mechanism on 4 December 2008. As with all potentially illegal online child sexual abuse reports we receive, the image was assessed according to current UK legislation and in accordance with 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, hosted outside the UK. As such, in accordance with IWF procedures, the specific webpage was added to the IWF list. This list is provided to ISPs and other companies in the online sector to help protect their customers from inadvertent exposure to potentially illegal indecent images of children.
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 great Aussie firewall is coming apart at the seams, as opposition mounts, and critics have a field day dissecting inept government plans for testing their shiny new filters.…
(Via The Register – Public Sector.)
UK e-tailers are scrambling to remove images of the Scorpions Virgin Killer album which led the Internet Watch Foundation to ban much of Wikipedia yesterday.…
(Via The Register – Public Sector.)
Post from: TorrentFreak
Lawyers in the UK are obtaining the personal details of over 25,000 alleged file-sharers for the purposes of sending them a £500+ bill accompanied by threats of being sued. Read why the government’s Information Commissioner has let down every single one of them and why each disclosure could be a serious breach of the Data Protection Act.
If you have received a letter from lawyers Davenport Lyons (or indeed any other law-firm operating the same business model) accusing you of illegally sharing games, videos or music, this article will provide serious food for thought and give you the tools and knowledge to make your voice heard at a government level. It is unacceptable that people are being wrongfully accused. We believe that your names and addresses should not have been handed over to these lawyers in the first place, and that you should not have received a threatening letter.
This is a guest post from Michael Coyle of Lawdit Solicitors who is currently defending many of those accused in the Dream Pinball, Colin McRae Dirt, Call of Juarez and more recently, the various porn titles cases brought by DigiProtect in the UK. (Intros, links, editing and letter template added by TorrentFreak/Penumbra)
Alleged File-Sharers: Why the Information Commissioner Has Let You Down
The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is a non-departmental public body reporting directly to Parliament. It is the office dealing with the Data Protection Act 1998 and the Freedom of Information Act 2000, the Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003 and the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 in England and Wales.
UK ISPs were ordered earlier this year [and in 2007] by the High Court to disclose information relating to its customer’s data, based on information provided to them by amongst others, video games companies. The information sought was based on the customer’s IP address. Pursuant to CPR 31.18, lawyers applied for an order that the ISPs disclose the full name, postal address and telephone number of the subscriber of each of the IP addresses supplied.
The game plan was to match each IP address with an individual and write to them with a hefty threatening letter and a request for £500-600. If this sum was not paid, court action was threatened, costing tens of thousands of pounds. It all seemed fairly conclusive. The ISPs complied and the Lawyers [Davenport Lyons] commenced the enormous task of writing to over (so we understand) 25,000 potential infringers.
However it was only when responses started to flood in – many in their hundreds to Lawdit Solicitors – did it become clear that while IP addresses could reveal a name and real-life address, it did not reveal the culprit. It proved very little. It certainly did not prove that any copyright infringement had taken place, far from it. Only by inspecting the hard drive of the customer’s computer could you do this. If there were any other evidence to sit alongside the IP address, for example a user name or password of the file sharing software you could sympathize with the rights holder.
But to rely on the IP address alone is wholly disproportionate and has resulted in untold misery to many thousands of individuals. This whole affair sums up in my view how little the Information Commissioner (IC) is really concerned with an individual’s data. I am not aware of any publicly quoted concerns from the IC about this issue and he has remained silent as the forums and bulletin boards crackle with the indignation and invasion of individual’s data. You cannot blame the ISPs. As a Court Order was in place, why would an ISP go out on a limb for a few thousand customers?
But the IC ought to have been keeping a watchful eye out and at the very least issue a press release to offer individuals some comfort. The silence is even more deafening in that on 29 January 2008, the ECJ held that Community law does not require member states to oblige ISPs to disclose details of suspected file-sharers to enable a copyright owner to bring civil proceedings.
Personal data is protected generally in the EU by virtue of the EC Directive on the protection of individuals with regard to the processing of personal data (95/46/EC) (Data Protection Directive). Member states may provide exemptions to protection in order to conduct criminal investigations or safeguard national or public security or to protect the rights and freedom of others (Article 13(1), Data Protection Directive).
In the UK such an exception can be found under section 35 (1) of the Data Protection Act 1998 which provides that ‘Personal data are exempt from the non-disclosure provisions where the disclosure is required by or under any enactment, by any rule of law or by the order of a court.’ This exemption does not contain any further considerations for a Data Controller before making a disclosure in these circumstances.
The EC Directive on the processing of personal data and the protection of privacy in the electronic communications sector (2002/58/EC) (E-Privacy Directive) provides that national authorities may only lift the protection of data privacy in order to safeguard national or public security or to conduct investigations into criminal offences or the unauthorised use of an electronic communications system, where this is a ‘necessary, appropriate and proportionate measure’ (Article 15(1), E-Privacy Directive).
The ECJ reached its conclusion(.pdf) following a Spanish case concerning Telefonica. The Juzgado de lo Mercantil No 5 de Madrid decided to stay the proceedings and referred the following question to the Court for a preliminary ruling:
Does Community law, specifically Articles 15(2) and 18 of Directive [2000/31], Article 8(1) and (2) of Directive [2001/29], Article 8 of Directive [2004/48] and Articles 17(2) and 47 of the Charter permit Member States to limit to the context of a criminal investigation or to safeguard public security and national defence, thus excluding civil proceedings, the duty of operators of electronic communications networks and services, providers of access to telecommunications networks and providers of data storage services to retain and make available connection and traffic data generated by the communications established during the supply of an information society service?
The ECJ, responded that the answer must be that Directives 2000/31, 2001/29, 2004/48 and 2002/58 do not oblige Member States to ensure effective protection of copyright in the context of civil proceedings to communicate personal data. A fair balance needs to be struck between the various fundamental rights and in particular the principle of proportionality. In Advocate General Kokott’s opinion she considered that it was compatible with Community law for member states to exclude operators of electronic communications networks and services from having to make available personal data relating to connection and traffic information in the context of a civil, as distinct from criminal, action.
While the decision is not binding on the ECJ it will generally follow the Advocate General’s opinion. For the vast majority if not all of the 25,000 recipients, this decision ought to have been interpreted as a request for information relating to a non criminal offence (i.e. any copying/file-sharing was non-commercial) and the request for the personal data ought to have been refused.
If you have received a letter accusing you of illicit file-sharing and you are innocent then please write to the Information Commissioner with your story and complain that the release of your personal data was a breach of the Data Protection Act 1998, while urging them to carry out a review of all subsequent releases.
The Information Commissioner’s Office, Wycliffe House, Water Lane, Wilmslow, Cheshire, SK9 5AF.
For your convenience, a TorrentFreak reader Penumbra has created this template in order to streamline the complaints procedure: (Link)
The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) is reviewing its decision to list as ‘child pornography’ the image on one version of the album ‘Virgin Killer’ by the rock band The Scorpions hosted on Wikipedia – and might yet add Amazon US to its list of ‘blocked’ sites for hosting the picture.
That could be disastrous for Amazon if it prevents people in the UK accessing its pages on the week that is expected to be the busiest online before Christmas.
The initial decision to block the image, taken on Friday, prevented UK contributors from editing the site, and blocked some people from seeing the site at all (although they were still able to view it through Google’s cache).
That is because the IWF’s system adds both the URL of an image and of a page containing the image to its ‘blacklist’ of pages to be blocked. ‘Illegal sites often hide images in pages,’ said Sarah Robertson, director of communications for the IWF.
The decision to ban the page, which was taken after consultation with the UK’s Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) agency, is now being reviewed, Robertson said. ‘The assessment was done in partnership with law enforcement.’
The Scorpions image was deemed to be ‘1 on a scale of 1 to 5, where 1 is the least offensive’, said Robertson. The image was judged to be ‘erotic posing with no sexual activity’. It depicts a young naked girl with her genitals obscured by a crack in the camera lens.
Robertson declined to say whether Amazon would be the next to be blocked. She confirmed that the Amazon page containing the offending cover was referred to the IWF today, but that no decision would be taken while the review of the original decision was in progress.
She could not say how long the review of the original decision will take. Typically it takes about 24 hours for a URL to go from initial referral to being added to the blacklist.
The decision has put the IWF’s methods and systems under the media spotlight. Normally the IWF, which is paid for by the EU and through a levy on the internet industry, works quietly away in its Cambridge offices. A team of four police-trained ‘analysts’ plough through 35,000 URLs sent to them each year that are under suspicion of being obscene.
That works out to an average of 700 per week, or 140 per working day, or 35 per working day per analyst – giving each an average workload for a seven-hour day of 5 URLs per hour. Typically about one-third of the URLs are deemed illegal.
If an image or text page contains obscene content and is hosted in the UK, the relevant ISP is contacted and the content removed. But if it is hosted abroad, it is added instead to a ‘blacklist’ to which access is prevented by BT’s ‘CleanFeed’ technology. Any attempt to access that page returns a ‘Page Not Found’ response.
‘We were notified of this [Wikipedia] URL last Thursday and added it to our blacklist on Friday,’ Robertson said.
The image under consideration was previously considered by the FBI in the US.
In an interview with a Portuguese magazine, the leader of the Scorpions said that the decision to use the image had not been the band’s:
It was the publisher … we gave the lyrics to the publisher and then they said us that the idea was to put a broken glass in front of a naked girl. The most curious is that a few years ago we met the girl of the photo, who is now about 30 years old and she is very nice. In that time the publisher knew it would have troubles with the album cover, and the boss even said that the record would be published. Nowadays it would be impossible to make something like that especially with the actual outrage of children sexual abuse, and we wouldn’t do it again, in that time it was already complicated, but as we were young we thought we had the right to go farther away.
British internet providers have blocked access to parts of Wikipedia after accusations that the site was carrying ‘potentially illegal’ images of child pornography.
Reports from users suggest that Virgin Media, O2’s Be internet service and others have blocked access to at least one Wikipedia article after it was placed on a blacklist by the Internet Watch Foundation, Britain’s de facto online watchdog.
The offending article, about German rock group The Scorpions’ 1976 album Virgin Killers, included an image of the record’s controversial cover – which featured a young naked girl with her genitals obscured by a crack in the camera lens.
The image caused controversy when the album was first released, and was eventually replaced in most countries – including the UK and United States – by a shot of the band. However, the original album cover is still on sale in the UK as part of a double album deluxe boxed set.
Instead of seeing the article itself, blocked users receive a fake message saying that the page could not be found.
In a statement, the IWF said that the organisation had received a report claiming the page was pornographic through its website, and that after a review the decision was made that the page was ‘potentially illegal’.
‘As with all child abuse reports received by our Hotline analysts, the image was assessed according to the UK Sentencing Guidelines Council,’ it said.
‘The content was considered to be a potentially illegal indecent image of a child under the age of 18… and the specific URL was then added to the list.’
The page itself has been the subject of hot debate among Wikipedia editors, some of whom objected to its use. However, after discussion the website’s administrators determined that the original cover image would remain.
The IWF – a self-regulated body that effectively operates as Britain’s online watchdog – runs the blacklist, largely focusing on images of child abuse.
The censoring system which uses the blacklist, known as Cleanfeed, was first launched by BT in 2004, but is now used by most of Britain’s main internet providers.
However, the system has not been without its critics. In 2005 researchers at the University of Cambridge discovered that Cleanfeed could easily be reverse-engineered to reveal a full list of all the sites containing illegal content – turning it into what lead researcher Richard Clayton called ‘an oracle to efficiently locate illegal websites’.
The proposed implementation of a similar system in Australia, also called Cleanfeed, has caused consternation among civil rights campaigners. They are concerned that the scheme – which plans to blacklist any ‘inappropriate’ content, not just images of child abuse, and will be enforced for all Australian internet users – represents a dangerous limitation on freedom of speech.
Electronic Frontiers Australia, an online campaign group, has previously attacked the ‘creeping scope’ of the plans, calling it ‘unprecedented interference in our communications infrastructure’.
· additional reporting by Wendy Grossman
· Is the ban acceptable protection or unwarranted censorship? Have your say on our Technology blog