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Withdraw government endorsement of the Internet Watch Foundation

Comment 6th July 2010

ISPs would no longer be required to use the blacklist of the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) if they want a government contract as happens now.

Why does this matter?

The IWF is a charity that creates a list of websites it deems against UK laws. If ISPs want government contracts, they must go along with the IWF's blacklist. Even if they don't, there is still huge pressure from the government for the ISP to follow the IWF. This is problematic for several reasons:

 

1. The IWF is unaccountable. It is not a governmental body, not even a quango. It is a private charity. Why should an unaccountable private body be engaging in censorship of the internet?

 

2. It is bureaucratic to require ISPs to follow the IWF and anti-competive for the government to endorse a single company.

 

3. The IWF cannot be trusted. It has from time to time banned things on the web for no good reason, such as the Virgin Killers album cover. At one point, it even blocked the Wayback Machine, although it claims this was accidental. These are violations of our liberty.

 

4. The general public is denied access to the list. There is no transparency in what is being blocked.

 

So as it currently stands, an unaccountable private company could have your ISP (and the vast majority of other ISPs) block your website, not inform you that they have done so, and with no power of review. That is utterly disgraceful censorship.

 

So:

 

* Remove the requirement of ISPs to use the IWF's blacklist if they want a government contract.

 

* When talking about the moral obligations of what ISPs should do, stop confusing that with the IWF. If ISPs want to use the IWF, then that should be their choice, but they should not be evangelized into doing so by government ministers.

 

* Make any blacklists by ISPs purely voluntary. Yes, there is child pornography out there, and yes businesses can be evil sometimes, but ISPs are not so drastically evil that they're all secret pedophiles. They will cooperate on the issue of child porn. They have kids too.

 

* Any blacklist an ISP uses/creates should be freely available for the public to see and comment on. No secret censorship.

 

* The ISP should inform the owner of the website it is blocking, if possible.

 

* Judicial review should be available to challenge blocks. No-one is sent to prison for child porn unless the jury is convinced that the person downloaded actual child porn. Similarly, no website should be blocked unless the website actually does have child porn.

 

* Censorship should only apply to child pornography. Currently, the IWF blocks things that are "obscene", or that "incite racial hatred". Those laws should go (and most people seem to agree on this site), but anyway, even if they didn't, they're not serious enough to warrant blocking of websites, which should be reserved for the worst of the worst: child pornography.

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