thoughts and observations of a privacy, security and internet researcher, activist, and policy advisor

Thursday, May 28, 2009

German Debate about Child Porn "Filters": Delete - don't Censor!

In Germany, we are approaching the show-down in a heavy political battle around how to fight "child pornography" (correct: documentation of child sexual abuse) on the internet. The government, lead by family affairs minister Ursula von der Leyen, is proposing a filtering system based on DNS poisoning. The Federal Criminal Police (BKA) would maintain the block list and send it to the ISPs once a day. Domains on the list would then be re-directed to a "STOPP" website instead of the originnal IP address. The list of course would be secret (as long as it does not end up on Wikileaks like many such lists from other countries before), no judicial oversight is planned, and people visiting a site on the block list (Rickrolling and tinyURL, anyone?) would have to fear criminal investigations, because the law enforcement agencies would get access to IP addresses ending up at the "stopp" site.

The plan has met heavy opposition from the already politicized German internet community. An online petition to the German parliament to not adopt this law today broke the barrier of 100,000 signatures. A parliament hearing yesterday showed massive problems with the current draft. The crucial question in the next two weeks, before the parliament ends it's session and everybody is heading towards the election campaign, will be if the Social Democrats, who are ruling together with the Conservatives, will understand that it does not make sense to adopt a quick&dirty law around such a serious topic.

The German blogosphere and twitterverse are furiously analyzing the factual errors in data presented by the government to support their proposal, discussing the constitutional problems, and pointing to the massive overblocking on leaked lists from other countries. They are organizing most of the core work in the "Working Group against Internet Blocking and Censorship" (Arbeitskreis gegen Internetsperren und Zensur / AK Zensur), which is more or less modeled after the successfull Working Group against Data Retention (AK Vorrat).

But interestingly, a lot of things are also happening extremely decentralized, only glued together by hashtags on twitter and similar microblogging services. The most popular hashtag is "#zensursula", which is a play of words with the German word for censorship (Zensur) and the minister's first name (Ursula). Last Saturday, there were public readings of the German constitution and many other protests on the streets in around 30 German cities, all triggered just by a blogpost and a tweet.

I'll speak about these methods of "activism 2.0", among other things, next week at the "Computers Freedom and Privacy" conference in Washington DC.

Now, a member of AK Zensur has made an interesting experiment and showed that it is not even necessary to block sites, because you can easily take them down completely. Stefan Graunke was so kind to do an English version of the press release:

Delete, don’t block: It works!

This is the English version of a German press release on ak-zensur.de

Within 12 hours, 60 child pornography sites were removed from the internet

In the ongoing German dispute over the appropriate action against documented child abuse on the Internet(child pornography), the supporters of a mere blocking solution argued that it is often not or only with considerable effort possible to remove the illegsl content or to get hold of it’s originator.

Alvar Freude of the Working Group against Internet blocking and censorship (AK Zensur) put this argument to the test. He analyzed the various European blocking lists via automatic procedures and wrote to each provider on whose servers child pornography was located according to lists. He received an impressive response: Within 12 hours after sending the first e-mail 60 websites were already deleted.

Further results and insights:

  • The first reactions respectively deletions followed after a few minutes and came among others from the USA, Holland, Denmark, Russia and Germany.
  • Three of the the deleted websites were located on servers in Germany.
  • A total of 348 providers in 46 different countries were contacted automatically and informed of 1943 allegedly illegal websites. A previous individual analysis of the web sites content has not been made. (It is completely illegal in Germany to look at child pornographic content.)
  • 250 providers have responded to the request, but they mostly found legal content. Samples that were taken afterwards confirmed the legal content.
  • Ten providers indicated that a total of 61 cases of illegal content had been removed. With a simple e-mail you can achieve a lot.
  • The examination through the providers showed that the vast majority of websites, including some from Germany, appeared to have no child pornographic content, some do not contain any objectionable material at all – therefore the websites were blocked in error. In Finland several domestic websites were blocked, that contain a critical examination of the blocking issue.
  • The providers have not been informed that some of their hosted websites were put on the blocking lists.
  • When made aware of this fact, the providers are more than willing to cooperate and remove illegal content as soon as possible.
  • A certain part of the illegal material was located on ‘hacked’ websites, ie sites that were exploited through security holes to spread external material. Here too the providers were very grateful for the supplied information.

The process to shut down websites with child pornographic content does not take longer than the transmission of a blocking list. This shows the absurdity of the reasoning behind simple blocking – there is no rational reason to just block criminal content and leave it on the Internet, still accessible for everyone who uses minimal effort to circumvent the block.

What was possible for a citizens’ initiative, such as the Working Group against Internet blocking and censorship, should be even easier for the German government and law enforcement agencies and their results should by far exceed the results of AK Zensur.

Delete, don’t block – the motto of AK Zensur – is possible!

Released by: Working Group against Internet blocking and censorship (AK Zensur)
Web: http://ak-zensur.de/ (in German)

Press Contact:
Alvar Freude
presse@ak-zensur.de
+49 179 13 46 47 1

About the Working Group against Internet blocking and censorship (AK Zensur):

The Working Group on Internet blocking and censorship (AK Zensur) speaks out against the Federal Government’s planned Internet blocking and promotes an effective fight against child abuse instead of ineffective symbolic politics that only promotes ‘looking the other way’, does not help the victims and establishes an infrastructure that restricts basic public rights. AK Zensur coordinates the work of Internet blocking opponents, but is also appreciates the many activities that are happening decentralized in the on- and offline world.

The members of AK Zensur are amongst others: Chaos Computer Club (CCC), FoeBuD, Association for Information Technology and Society (FITUG), Forum of Computer Scientists for Peace and Social Responsibility (FIfF), Victims Of Abuse Against Internet Blocks (MOGIS), netzpolitik.org, the online platform ODEM.org, Trotz Allem e.V. and numerous individuals.

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