British ISPs block Wikipedia over child pornography allegations

December 7, 2008

As a UK citizen, I am well aware that I live in only a partly free country. In fact, I’m not even classed as a citizen, merely a subject of the Queen, which is nice. However, I wasn’t aware that Britain had a system in place to block access to certain Web sites. But it seems the UK has more in common with China than I previously thought.

The Great Firewall of China, or the Golden Shield Project, is an attempt by the Chinese authorities to stop its citizens from accessing Web sites deemed unsuitable for viewing. This includes blogs and sites containing subversive or anti-communist content. But bizarrely, it also includes the BBC and Wikipedia.

But it seems China isn’t alone in regarding Wikipedia as subversive, with many British Internet users now having their access to the site curtailed. One article in particular cannot be read at all, and any attempts to edit content on any other article results in failure.

The problem, as detailed on Wikinews, is down to an article about an album called Virgin Killer by German band, Scorpions. The album cover, which was banned in many countries upon release in the 1970s, features a naked prepubescent child. Whether this amounts to child pornography or not is debatable, but the Internet Watch Foundation has now classified it as such and added the article to a blacklist.

The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) is a self-regulated charitable body that polices online child pornography as well as racist and criminally obscene material. As soon as the Virgin Killer Wikipedia article was added to its blacklist, six British ISPs, Virgin Media, Be/O2/Telefonica, EasyNet/UK Online, PlusNet, Demon, and Opal restricted access to it.

The Register explains how “the ISPs are routing Wikipedia traffic through transparent proxies,” meaning multiple users are being tarred with the same ISP. As well as restricting access to this one article, this is also preventing millions of British users from editing articles on Wikipedia due to ban one, ban them all mentality.

Clearly, this issue needs addressing, because it’s completely unfair to ban everyone in an IP range from editing Wikipedia purely because one person may have done something wrong. But the bigger issue surrounds censorship in the UK, with question marks as to whether the Virgin Killer article should be off-limits in the first place.

No-one condones child pornography apart from pedophiles and weird freedom-for-all advocates, but it’s interesting to note that the album cover in question isn’t a problem in the U.S. thanks to it passing the Miller test. There was me thinking the UK was as free as the U.S. but that’s clearly not the case.

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8 Responses to “British ISPs block Wikipedia over child pornography allegations”

  1. Scott Lyon:

    There will be an interview with the head of IWF on Radio 4 tomorrow at 8:20AM.

    Hopefully we’ll hear some more details of this.

  2. MCG:

    No no no, it’s only anonymous users on the ISPs in question that can’t edit Wikipedia – which is a kind of silver lining, since anonymous vandals are the bane of Wikipedia.

  3. Anonymous:

    There’s no “ban one, ban them all” mentality, there’s no banning of IP ranges, it’s just because they’re all going through a handful of proxies now, there’s no way at all to distinguish individual anonymous users; everyone is being lumped in under one of a bit over a dozen single IPs, along with thousands of other users.

    I should also note that in addition to not being a problem in the US, it’s possibly not even a problem in the UK. As the IWF’s official statement on the matter (http://iwf.org.uk/media/news.249.htm, which is fairly dry and completely ignores the real problem) states, it’s merely a “potentially illegal indecent image of a child”. Though this just makes it even worse, because it means they apparently block stuff that just might be illegal.

  4. JoJo:

    Actaully you are a citizen and not a subject. This was changed under the British Nationality Act 1981.

    Also if you don’t like living in a “Democratic Monarchy” then I’d suggest you emigrate to the closest republic because you won’t be “Free” their either!

  5. J.delanoy:

    I particularly liked the Sydney Morning Herald’s assessment.

    http://www.smh.com.au/news/technology/web/wikipedia-added-to-child-pornography-blacklist/2008/12/08/1228584723764.html

    “Ironically, the banning of the image has only made it visible to more people as news sites publicise the issue and the image spreads across sites other than Wikipedia.”

    Fail.

    How long is it going to take people to understand that trying to censor something only makes it more visible? I thought that people had learned that last year with the whole HD DVD encryption mess with Digg.

  6. Spencer:

    Guise just use a proxy, you can look at it all you want :)

  7. Brian:

    At the end of the day possessing an image depicting a crime can’t be illegal. I am not guilty of murder for looking at a beheading video, why can’t I look at CP? Its not like I pay for it.

  8. John:

    Dave Parrack states “it’s interesting to note that the album cover in question isn’t a problem in the U.S. thanks to it passing the Miller test”

    However, the Supreme Court determined in the 1982 case New York vs Ferber, the Court wrote “The Miller standard, like all general definitions of what may be banned as obscene, does not reflect the State’s particular and more compelling interest in prosecuting those who promote the sexual exploitation of children.”

    In particular, the Court stated, “it is irrelevant to the child [who has been harmed] whether or not the material … has a literary, artistic, political or social value.”

    The Supreme Court concluded:

    “The test for child pornography is separate from the obscenity standard enunciated in Miller, but may be compared to it for the purpose of clarity. The Miller formulation is adjusted in the following respects: A trier of fact need not find that the material appeals to the prurient interest of the average person; it is not required that sexual conduct portrayed be done so in a patently offensive manner; and the material at issue need not be considered as a whole.”

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