As you are no doubt aware, assuming you’re not living under a tech rock, the Internet Watch Foundation has recently blocked access to an article on Wikipedia on the premise that it depicts child pornography.

First and foremost, I disagree with the IWF’s assessment of the imagery linked to by the article, as does the person depicted in the image, and clearly as do all the jurisdictions in which an attempt has been made to have the image removed; since all such attempts have failed.

The image in question is the cover art for an album made many years ago, which features a naked pre-pubescent girl with censorship in the form of a broken-glass effect. The album, with this very artwork can still be purchased on Amazon and in shops up and down the UK. It has not been deemed illegal.

However the IWF believe it is bad and have attempted to block access to the image on Wikipedia following a tip-off from an apparently disgruntled viewer of the website. The IWF is not pro-active in searching for contraventions of the child pornography act, instead they rely on Joe Public to tell them about problems, and then they consider exactly that case and no others which could plausibly be related. So, in investigating an album’s cover art, they forgot to check if any online CD retailers also carried the imagery - oh well.

Also the IWF are, it seems, unable to actually effectively perform their duty, even when they do decide something is bad. Specifically, while access to the Wikipedia article itself was blocked, access to the offensive image itself was not. (Also, you can view the article easily by knowing an alternative URL form for Wikipedia.)

Upset that my own business internet connection, which was sold to me as explicitly unfiltered and unproxied, was prevented from accessing wikipedia in a full and unfettered way, I finally gave up and rang ntl:Business and lodged a complaint. They asked me to write my complaint in full and email it in, and so I did. Below is what I said.

From: Daniel Silverstone &lt;dsilvers@digital-scurf.org&gt;<br />To: &lt;censored&gt;<br />Subject: Complaint, ref &lt;censored&gt;<br />Date: Mon, 08 Dec 2008 15:37:06 +0000<br /><br /><br />Hello,<br /><br />As requested, here is a full explanation of my complaint.<br /><br />When I originally looked for business internet connection at the start<br />of this year, I was told that the ntl:Business lines were direct IP<br />connectivity. i.e. that they are not metered, filtered, proxied,<br />monitored, traced, etc at all.<br /><br />Recently it has come to my attention that this is quite simply not the<br />case. With specificity, access to URLs which the Internet Watch<br />Foundation have deemed inappropriate is blocked transparently.<br /><br />My issue with this is multi-fold:<br /><br />1. You are clearly monitoring / filtering / proxying my business<br />internet connection which goes against that which was explained to me<br />when I looked to open the account.<br />2. Your proxying of these sites reduces access speed to them and in the<br />case of any URL which the IWF has deemed inappropriate, you incorrectly<br />reset the TCP stream rather than providing a full and explicit<br />explanation of why you have blocked access. This kind of behaviour makes<br />the user believe that the remote site is broken and can result in<br />erroneous fault reports to website owners which wastes time and money<br />for both user and site owner.<br />3. The content which the IWF deemed inappropriate is not blocked by the<br />blacklist whatsoever, instead, a textual discussion of the controversy<br />surrounding the imagery is blocked. If the IWF got this wrong, how much<br />more legitimate content are you blocking because of the IWF.<br />4. Additionally, in the specific case brought up today (see the BBC news<br />site, or the Register site) the image in question is still available on<br />many other large websites such as Amazon, where you can, just for<br />completeness, still purchase a copy of the image quite legally under UK<br />law.<br />5. Because accesses to these sites are proxied, all connections from<br />Virgin Media customers appear to be coming from the same IP address,<br />which makes proxying and self-policing impossible for those sites. This<br />increases costs to the site, or alternatively such sites end up banning<br />all Virgin Media customers since they are now unable to distinguish<br />those legitimate users from any malicious ones.<br />6. That you blindly obey the Internet Watch Foundation's recommendations<br />comes across a shades of China -- that a single entity gets to say what<br />I may and may not access on the basis of whether or not J.Random user<br />has reported that specific instance of something which may at some point<br />be considered inappropriate or illegal in some fashion.<br /><br />You can resolve this in one of the following ways, from most specific to<br />me, to least technical cost to you:<br /><br />1. Cease and provide written confirmation that you will desist from<br />filtering my internet connection.<br />2. Cease and provide written confirmation that you will desist from<br />filtering all business internet connections.<br />3. Cease and provide written confirmation that you will desist from<br />filtering all internet connections for all Virgin Media and ntl:Business<br />customers.<br /><br />Alternatively, given the incredible and quite frankly distasteful terms<br />and conditions of acquiring the Internet Watch Foundation's blacklist of<br />URLs, you could break your contract with the Internet Watch Foundation<br />and provide full written disclosure to all of your customers of all of<br />the URLs which you are blocking their access to, and why.<br /><br />The Internet Watch Foundation's blacklist is, as I am sure you<br />appreciate, utterly and completely worthless for preventing people who<br />*want* to view inappropriate content from doing so. There exist many<br />options, including, but not limited to moving one of the numerous ISPs<br />who do not use the list, using one of the many internet access<br />anonymising tools which exist such as Tor or simply by using secure<br />connections which cannot be statefully proxied or filtered.<br /><br />All the blacklist serves to do is to prevent access to legitimate<br />resources which are "unfortunately" caught by overzealous or simply<br />incorrect filtering rules; and to reduce the likelyhood that someone who<br />didn't want to see inappropriate content would be exposed to such<br />inadvertently.<br /><br />The former is an unwanted side-effect, the latter can easily be<br />performed by allowing customers to elect to use a proxy supplied by<br />yourselves which implements the blacklist.<br /><br />Thus the only purpose your transparent proxying of this traffic serves<br />is to annoy legitimate users such as myself.<br /><br />I respectfully request a prompt confirmation of the receipt of this<br />message; and I look forward to hearing about your proposal for a<br />resolution of the issue.<br /><br />Regards,<br /><br />Daniel.

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