June 20, 2009
This list presents 287 internet sites currently censored by Italy. This quasi-voluntary system, which was introduced under the banner of fighting “child pornography” relies on a secret, unaccountable list of site names. Because of this lack of transparency, and the power of the censorship system, the blacklist is of intense interest.
Secret “child pornography” censorship blacklists in other countries, such as China, Thailand, Australia, Finland and Denmark have all been shown by WikiLeaks to have been corrupted into censoring non-child pornographic content, including political content (all but Denmark). It seems to be a law of human affairs that when such powerful, unaccountable, systems are introduced, they soon stray from their stated purpose.
The majority of sites on the Italian list seem to be unrelated to child pornography. While some do appear to relate to the images of teenagers, the vast majority of sites are related to what appears to be legal young-adult pornography. Some sites are unrelated to any type of pornography.
These include businesses or institutes outside of Italy, and discussion forums, used by tens of thousands for all purposes. While it is possible these sites had an unauthorized user briefly upload an underage image or link to such an image, the continued presence of the sites on this list likely reflects the lack of any censorship notification or appeal mechanism.
The Australian government admitted during a Senate estimates hearing that fewer than one third of its May 2009 blacklist was related to images of those under the age of 18.
During 2008, the government of Thailand added over 1100 pages to its censorship blacklist for “lese majeste” (criticizing the royal family).
Both the Australian and Thai blacklists have been going for a longer than the Italian system and are possibly substantially more corrupt as a result.
We checked the Italian censorship system against the top 1,000,000 most popular Internet domains (as measured by Alexa.com in November, 2008), together with selected blacklists from other countries to discover a portion of those sites censored by Italy. Botique sites and sites only recently popular do not appear in our list due to limitations in our methodology. That said, our list represents an accurate, current subset of the full list.
In Italy, blocking of content is done through DNS servers – when request for blocked site is made, user is redirected to IP 220.127.116.11 instead of original address. Two nameservers involved in the blocking are 18.104.22.168 and 22.214.171.124.
The list can be reproduced by using the Unix “dig” utility, using a command such as “dig @126.96.36.199 -f list +noall +answer” where “list” is a file containing list of domains to be checked (one per line). We then search for results which lead to IP 188.8.131.52, the site which displays the “censorship page”. This is a universal method, which can be applied to all DNS based blocking systems.