Crime | 08.06.2009
Blocking access to child porn doesn’t help victims, expert says
Condemnation of child porn is universal, but not everyone agrees on how to fight it
Germany was right to drop plans that would have blocked access to Web sites containing child pornography, an expert told DW. Such schemes don’t always work, lack transparency and seldom help victims.
Germany’s family ministry recently suggested creating a list of Web sites that contain child pornography and blocking access to them. But the plan was eventually dropped after civil rights – and even victims’ rights – groups opposed the proposed law.
The government’s decisions to shelve the plan was the right one, according to Yaman Akdeniz, the director of British Cyber-rights and Cyber-liberties organization and an expert on the legal issues surrounding child pornography.
He told Deutsche Welle that such technology-based blocks are not always effective and don’t help children who have been sexually abused.
Deutsche Welle: What are some of the technology-based measure being used around the world to fight child pornography and how effective do you think they are?
Yaman AkdenizBildunterschrift: Großansicht des Bildes mit der Bildunterschrift: Blocking access to Web sites never works 100 percent of the time, Akdeniz said
Yaman Akdeniz: In the last few years, because of the limitations of the legal systems – the perpetrators or criminals are not always located in the jurisdiction where child pornography is accessible – governments and policy makers started to develop policies to block access to known Web sites and other forums carrying child pornography. Usually this involves blocking access completely from one country to known sources around the world. The UK has been very active in blocking access to child pornography Web sites. Lists are complied on a daily basis and the lists are fed into a system, which many Internet service providers use to block access to known Web sites carrying child pornography.
That sounds similar to a German plan that’s been put on the shelf now. What do you think of the German government’s decision not to block access to Web sites with child pornography?
First of all, there are questions marks about the effectiveness of such a system. I don’t know the exact details of the system in Germany or why the system was dropped, however, these systems are not 100 percent effective. There are issues of transparency – nobody knows what’s being blocked and nobody knows what the criteria are for blocking. Secondly, these systems only prevent accidental access to such Web sites. If anybody wants to deliberately access these Web sites, they will somehow find the technological means to access them. These preventives tools and technologies are never 100 percent effective in blocking access.
Technologists are also developing what we call circumvention technologies to bypass the blocking or censorship mechanisms. These are used, for example, in China to fight political censorship, but they can also be used to bypass blocking mechanisms for any other types of content. Real hardcore pedophiles or anyone else who wants to access these Web sites will find the means to access them.
In a sense, blocking access to these Web sites does not necessarily make the problem go away. We just push it off our computer screens – whether in Germany or the United Kingdom or any other country – but that doesn’t necessarily mean the serious problem of sexual exploitation of children and child pornography disappear from the Internet.
Is there a technological way to help the victims of child pornography?
From a policy development point of view, I think the emphasis of policy initiatives should be preventing sexual exploitation of children.
For example, there is concern that there are more new, exploitative images coming online because most people have digital cameras or telephones. That means real children are being abused somewhere around the globe. Policy makers and police need to concentrate on identifying these children and saving them.
First the abusers then the commercial distributers need to be targeted and then policy makers need to worry about the people who download or view child pornography and prevent them from accessing or viewing child pornography. I’m not here to say that’s not important, but we need to prioritize and there are more important things to be done in the fight against child pornography.
Do you think the Internet has made it easier to spread child pornography or increased access to it?
Compared to the pre-Internet age – which I’d would say is before the mid-1990s – child pornography was predominately a cottage industry and not very visible, but, obviously, the problem of pedophilia and child pornography has not been created by the Internet. It’s the medium where its distribution is facilitated. More child pornography is in circulation, but that does not necessarily mean there is more child pornography compared to the 1980s. It’s the technological development of not just the Internet, but cheaper access to digital cameras and mobile phones with cameras that make it easier to take photos.
But when you look at the prosecution statistics, especially in the United Kingdom and the United States, there were only a handful of prosecutions back in 1995 because the police in both countries were not in a position to find the criminals and they didn’t come in contact with pedophiles because they were circulating their images in secrecy.
Now they do it on the Internet, which has resulted in several successful operations, and in the UK police are now averaging over 1,000 prosecutions every year for child pornography offenses. In the United States that number reached about 1,500 a year, and has been such since about 2001. A lot of people are being prosecuted for child pornography related offenses because they leave digital traces. Easy accessibility and visibility, perhaps, turned into better policing and more people are being prosecuted – as a result of which, I hope more children will be saved from these abusive environments.
We can’t just blame the Internet. The Internet has also been beneficial.
Interview Sean Sinico
Editor: Kate Bowen