Written by Andrea-Marie Vassou, Computeract!ve, 17 Dec 2008.
Online rights groups have described the Internet Watch Foundation’s decision to block a page on the Wikipedia online encyclopaedia as a “knee-jerk reaction” .
The IWF, a charity that works to minimise the availability of illegal content online, added one Wikipedia page to its watch list after it was reported to contain a picture of a naked young girl.
The watch list is used by all the major UK internet service providers, so most UK internet users were barred from viewing the page in question. However, the block accidentally left many UK users unable to edit any page on the online encyclopaedia.
Dr Yaman Akdeniz, director of the Cyber-Rights and Cyber-Liberties group, said the IWF went a step too far in imposing the block.
“It was a knee jerk reaction and it was wrong to block access to a site that gives people so much information,” he said.
He pointed out that the image, the cover of an album called Virgin Killer by German heavy metal band Scorpions, had been available on the internet for years.
Following representations from Wikipedia, the IWF reconsidered its decision. Although maintaining that the image “is potentially in breach of the Protection of Children Act 1978”, it said that “in light of the length of time the image has existed and its wide availability, the decision has been taken to remove this web page from our list.”
It added that it “regrets the unintended consequences for Wikipedia and its users” of the ban.
Ruth Hoy, partner at DLA Piper solicitors, said that new methods are likely to be needed to deal with illegal content on sites such as Wikipedia.
“As with many areas of internet regulation, the law has to tread a delicate balance: on the one hand safeguarding freedom of expression while on the other facilitating the removal of defamatory, illicit or other illegal content,” she said.
“As the internet diversifies and user-generated content abounds, it is clear that self-regulation may not be sufficient in the long term… some form of unified set of laws and global standards seems inevitable.”