INTERNET SERVICE providers and civil liberties groups have raised concerns about efforts by An Garda Síochána to introduce a blocking system aimed at preventing Irish internet users accessing sites containing child pornography.
The National Bureau of Criminal Investigation has written to ISPs asking them to nominate a contact who could help implement such a system.
In the letter, Det Supt John McCann says members of An Garda Síochána will ‘investigate and identify those domains and sub-domains being used to distribute ‘child pornography’’ as defined under Irish law. When internet users try to access these sites the ISP is requested to display a special ‘Stop! page’, explaining the material requested is illegal under Irish law.
A copy of the letter seen by The Irish Times says the authorities will not seek information identifying ISP customers but they will seek information about other sites visited by these customers in an effort to identify other domains that may warrant being blocked.
The letter was sent last December 28th.
ISPs are concerned that this is a unilateral action by Garda with no legislative basis. At least one ISP has told the Garda that negotiation about the system should be done with a representative body such as telecoms group Alternative Operators in the Communications Market (Alto) or the Internet Service Providers Association of Ireland rather than dealing with individual service providers.
The introduction of blocking lists in other jurisdictions has proven highly controversial. In 2009, WikiLeaks published details of the list of sites blocked in Australia. While it included sites containing images of child abuse, the list also included poker sites, WikiLeaks entries and the web pages for a Queensland dentist and dog-boarding kennel.
Last month, the civil liberties committee of the European Parliament voted down European Commission proposals on web blocking and voted instead for measures to tackle the production of child pornography.
‘We don’t support bilateral agreements with the Garda in advance of an EU directive on the matter which may be not be as draconian as this system,’ said Ronan Lupton, chairman of Alto. ‘Such agreements may also detract from Ireland’s attractiveness for investments in the digital media sector.’
Solicitor and head of Digital Rights Ireland, TJ McIntyre, said studies had shown that this type of blocking was very easily evaded and failed to address the main concern, ‘which should be removing this material at source’.
‘This is an area where legislation is required, not a private agreement with no judicial oversight,’ said Mr McIntyre.
Some in the industry are concerned that if ISPs agree to block child pornography, they could subsequently be asked to block access to other types of material, such as that protected by copyright.
Despite legal efforts by the Irish Recorded Music Association (Irma), only Eircom implements a ‘three strikes’ system where subscribers found to be repeatedly sharing copyrighted music are cut off from the internet.