While some European countries block the illegal content (mostly child pornography websites), other are considering implementing a similar measure through a hidden list.
However the past month has shown, one more time if necessary, that usually the list of any blocked content will leak and thus the allegedly blocked content will become widely available.
Belgium is one of the new countries considering such a list. The Minister of Enterprise and Administrative Reform, Vincent Van Quickenborne, wants to ban child pornography on the Internet through a protocol between ISPs and the Government. The protocol might extend to other illegal sites, such as hate and racism websites or Internet fraud.
The federal police special division Federal Computer Crime Unit (FCCU) confirms that it detects yearly 800 – 1000 child pornography websites hosted in foreign countries and the court procedure to block those sites is rarely used since it is too burdensome.
The Flemish League for Human Rights (Liga voor Mensenrechten) has criticized the project underlining that ‘ the decision to block websites must remain under exclusive authority of the judicial branch. It is unacceptable that the police gets a wild card to block certain websites at will.’
The legal framework already exists in Belgium, but Minister Van Quickenborne wants a more flexible mechanism that can be used more quickly to effectively block websites. It seems that the police will get the authority to compose the blacklists of to be blocked websites, without any legal safeguards or external oversight mechanisms. The fact that FCCU admits right away that this practice should also be applicable in other cases, makes the whole practice very worrisome.
The practice of the hidden lists of illegal websites is not new. But in the past month, we’ve seen at least 3 major blacklists become public, thus becoming irrelevant.
The blacklist operated by the Danish child pornography filtering system (3863 blocked URLs) leaked on 23 December 2008 and is available in full online.
Only a few days before the Thailand’s blacklist made by the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology that blocks access to websites deemed unsuitable for the Thai people become available on the Internet. (1203 websites). The list included hundreds of YouTube videos (including Hillary Clinton’s campaign videos) as well as blogs, cartoons, Charlie Chaplin videos and an article in the Economist magazine banned for criticising the Thai king.
In the same period Wikileaks published the Finnish Internet censorship list. The Finnish National Bureau of Investigation has requested executive assistance from United States, but it is not known what precisely has been requested – whether the concern is only removing the list or whether they are trying to find out who leaked it. The list still includes the critical Finnish anti-censorship site lapisporno.info.