Euro ISPA warns against BT web block-list

By EDRi · August 4, 2004

The UK telephone and internetprovider BT is blocking the access for its
customers to an unknown number of websites since 21 June 2004, allegedly
containing images of child pornography. So far, BT has not disclosed any
information about the banned sites and the precise technical way in which
the filtering is deployed, raising serious questions about large scale
private censorship on the internet.

The software BT has developed to filter out the unwanted websites is
called Cleanfeed, and was developed in collaboration with the Internet
Watch Foundation. Both the association of UK internetproviders and the
European umbrella organisation of internetproviders (Euro ISPA) have
demanded more information about the exact nature of the blocking. The
Internet Watch Foundation does not provide any information on its website
or its annual reports on Cleanfeed or on the block-list of websites that
they have developed. As a hotline, the mission statement of the Internet
Watch Foundation is not limited exclusively to the battle against child
abuse, but also aims to minimise the availability of “adult material that
potentially breaches the Obscene Publications Act in the UK.”

Under this Obscene Publications Act (texts from 1959 and 1964) the term
‘indecency’ is introduced and understood by courts to mean something that
“offends against the modesty of the average man, offending against
recognised standards of propriety at the lower end of the scale”.
According to the UK digital rights organisation Liberty, this means the
definition depends on circumstances and current, sometimes local
standards. “This vagueness is dangerous. Posters for causes such as animal
rights, which are deliberately intended to shock their audience, have
sometimes had to contend with indecency prosecutions.”

So far, BT only released a figure about the attempts to access those
banned websites in the first 3 weeks of the trial. They allegedly blocked
230,000 intended visits (not visitors), but caused confusion by also
saying on the radio the number was twice as high, namely 20,000 URL
requests per day. The UK provider association immediately responded with a
series of questions and a high level of concern. What exactly was BT
registering, the unique visitors, hits or even hits per image on a
website? Did BT take into account that there was no error-message, so
people trying to access a banned site would probably retry at least once?
And that maybe this would increase the statistics by a factor of at least

According to Richard Nash from Euro ISPA it is irresponsible for providers
to block websites for their users. In stead of trying to make child
pornography invisible, the responsible thing would be to deal with the
production of the content. In stead of private decisions about what is
‘decent’ and what is not, providers should develop a thorough and balanced
notice and takedown procedure, and governments should collaborate more
closely in chasing down the production sources internationally.

ISPA seeks analysis of BT’s ‘Cleanfeed’ stats (21.07.2004)

Liberty guide to the Obscene Publications Act