Online child pornography
A case of web-blocking occurred in Italy is re-opening the discussion about what should be done in order to fight efficiently and definively child-pornography in the Internet.
Yesterday 14 February 2013 the Italian police imposed the block of the domain name 25.media.tumblr.com, an archive used for images uploaded on a blogging platform. The decision was taken because of the likely existence of paedo-pornographic content on the website. In Italy there is a specific police agency, the so-called CNCPO (National Centre for the Fight against Online Pedopornography) managing a black list of websites which are deemed to host pedopornographic material. Normally, when the Italian police finds such illicit content in the web, the suspected website is added to the list and ISPs are immediately notified to block access to the related domain. The police agency operates straight on the basis of evidences, without previous court authorisation, however subsequent jurisdictional review is always admitted.
In the case at stake, it is clear that the blocking measure had overreaching effects, because access has been denied to any kind of content existing on the platform. People holding or looking for licit content got into troubles and did not have a clear and manageable procedure to disable the block. Even now, while writing the present post and people are discussing in the Internet how to circumvent the block, it is not clear yet whether the block has been finally resolved.
This event, and the related confusion caused in the Italian market, seems to be an interesting opportunity for a general re-thinking of the overall matter.
Child-pornography is an horrible crime and when occurring in the Internet shall be addressed via effective and secure repressive measures. In this respect, European ISPs have been longly claiming that website-blocking is not an appropriate instrument, because it can be easily circumvented through specific technologies available in the market at cheap prices. In other words, web-blocking does not work with respect to people seriosuly committed to watch and exchange paedo-pornographic content (i.e. paedophiles and other criminals), while it may works for people accidentally and unintentionally falling onto such material (children, teachers, families and so on). In addition, web-blocking involve collateral and problematic damages, such as blocking access to licit content uploaded in the same website.
The only effective way to fight child pornography in the Internet consists in removing illicit content at the source, i.e. deleting the original files hosted in the servers. Such measure permits to definitively destroy paedo-pornographic content in the web and also to get closer to the criminals making use or profit of it. In comparison to that, web-blocking is just like putting the garbage under the carpet.
And so, why police and many politicians, in Italy but also abroad, insist so much with web-blocking rather than hosting removal?
Web-blocking appears to be an easy solution for the police, because it consists in just sending (normally via fax) an order to the ISPs to block access to a website. Politicians claim to have taken measures against an horrible phenomenon. Citizens and electors may have the perception that the problem has been finally solved, because the paedo-pornographic content apparently disappeared. However and unfortunately, such horrible content is still online and accessible, as explained above.
To sum up, only content removal works effectively, however it requires better organization, because, in case the illicit content is hosted abroad, policies and authorities of different countries must be able to cooperate promptly and effectively. Statistics show that paedopornographic content is mostly hosted within the EU or in the US, therefore improved international cooperation is needed and should be possible.
The recent European Directive 2011/92/EU of 13 December 2011 on combating the sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of children and child pornography reflects the suggested approach. Pursuant to its article 25(1), Member States shall take the necessary measures to ensure the prompt removal of web pages containing or disseminating child pornography hosted in their territory and to endeavour to obtain the removal of such pages hosted outside of their territory.
In addition to that, as a faculty and not as an obligation (article 25(2) Member States may also enforce web-blocking, subject however to a number of safeguards.
Directive 2011/92/EU must be transposed into national law by Member States, including Italy, by the end of 2013.
Beside Italy, fight against child pornography in the Internet is addressed in major European countries in various means.
In France a recent legislation (so-called Loppsi law of February 2011)requires ISPs to block access, immediately and without a court order, to sites included on a blacklist set up by an ad hoc agency. Notably, since 2008 ISPs were committed, by way of a voluntarily agreement, to block websites containing paedophile content (and other illicit material such as content related to terrorism and racial hatred).
In United Kingdom the solution is similar, however it is managed by way of self-regulation. A private body, the Internet Watch Foundation, runs a child sexual abuse blacklist on the basis of which ISPs block access to those websites (on a voluntary basis).
In Germany the measures to be taken consist in content removal, since the 2010 law on combating child pornography (focussing on website blocking) was repealed in 2011.
Also in Spain the repression against paedo-pornographic content consists in hosting removal. There were initiatives, in the Parliament and also in the public opinion, to address the problem also via other means, however to time no further legislation has been adopted.