Wikipedia filtered by UK ISPs for cover album picture

By EDRi · December 17, 2008

(Dieser Artikel ist auch in deutscher Sprache verfügbar)

Wikipedia administrators found on 5 December 2008 that six British ISPs were
filtering the access to their site, after Internet Watch Foundation (IWF)
had put the online encyclopedia on a child-pornography blacklist for its
article on Virgin Killer, the record album of the German band the Scorpions.

The action was taken following a report occurred on 4 December through IWF’s
online reporting mechanism on the article which presents the album and its
original cover depicting a naked prepubescent girl. The cover was banned in
many countries and replaced by another cover when the album was issued in

IWF stated that “As with all potentially illegal online child sexual abuse
reports we receive, the image was assessed according to current UK
legislation and in accordance with the UK Sentencing Guidelines Council
(page 109). The content was considered to be a potentially illegal indecent
image of a child under the age of 18, hosted outside the UK. As such, in
accordance with IWF procedures, the specific webpage was added to the IWF
list. This list is provided to ISPs and other companies in the online sector
to help protect their customers from inadvertent exposure to potentially
illegal indecent images of children.”

David Gerard, unofficial spokesman for Wikipedia UK, argued that
ISPs were blocking not only the image but the associated text of the
article. “Part of the problem lies in the fact that the IWF have not just
blocked the offending image, but have blocked the accompanying text as well.
We cannot be certain, but we suspect that had they stuck to their remit of
focussing on pictures, the problem might not have arisen.”

In some cases, UK users could not edit Wikipedia pages, in others it seems
they could not view it at all. Moreover, because the six ISPs are routing
Wikipedia traffic through transparent proxies, an enormous amount of what
would appear to be Wikipedia editors seem to come from the same IP range. A
single IP may identify all Virgin Media users, which means that if Wikipedia
admins decided to ban one Virgin Media customer for inappropriate edits,
they might ban all Virgin Media customers. One of the messages received by
UK users read: “Wikipedia has been added to an Internet Watch Foundation UK
website blacklist, and your Internet service provider has decided to block
part of your access. Unfortunately, this also makes it impossible for us to
differentiate between different users, and block those abusing the site
without blocking other innocent people as well.”

Although legally correct in classifying the cover album image as illegal in
UK under the Sexual Offences Act 2003, as the image does not link to sites
with similar material and is not hosted on such a site, IWF, which compiles
its blacklist manually, could have applied the Notice and Take-down
procedure in order not to disrupt other legitimate uses of Wikimedia. On
the other hand, Wikipedia’s editors, although not contacted or notified by
IWF or the ISPs, have considered the issue of taking the image down but
decided against it, considering this measure a form of censorship.

On 9 December, IWF Board announced that after considering the context of the
case and the fact that the image had existed for some time already and it
was also widely available, it had decided to remove this webpage from its
blacklist. Moreover: “Any further reported instances of this image which are
hosted abroad, will not be added to the list. Any further reported instances
of this image which are hosted in the UK will be assessed in line with IWF

The blacklist has also had results outside UK. In Finland, Teliasonera, a
large ISP, also censored the Wikipedia article. The reason given out was a
configuration error causing the ISP to use the IWF censorship list in
addition to the police provided list.

Richard Clayton from EDRi-member FIPR-UK looked in depth on the technical
aspects of the censoring of Wikipedia to underline the fact that the IWF
chose to filter text pages on Wikipedia rather than just the images they
were concerned or that different capitalisations of URLs, the different
blocking technologies, and the different implementation timescales led to
considerable confusion as to who blocked what and when.

“Some of these matters could be described as “human error” and might be done
better in any re-run of these events with any of the other questionable
images hosted on Wikipedia (and many other mainstream sites). However, most
of the differences in the effectiveness of the attempted censorship stem
directly from diverse blocking system designs – and we can expect to see
them recur in future incidents. The bottom line is that these blocking
systems are fragile, easy to evade (even unintentionally), and little more
than a fig leaf to save the IWF’s blushes in being so ineffective at getting
child abuse image websites removed in a timely manner” concludes Richard.

Brit ISPs censor Wikipedia over ‘child porn’ album cover (7.12.2008)

IWF statement regarding Wikipedia webpage (9.12.2008)

UK ISPS lock out Wikipedia in filtering error (7.12.2008)

Finnish internet censorship expanding: Wikipedia article censored

Technical aspects of the censoring of Wikipedia (11.12.2008)

Technical aspects of the censoring of Wikipedia