Private hotlines questioned at EC Safer Internet Forum

By EDRi · July 5, 2006

(Dieser Artikel ist auch in deutscher Sprache verfügbar)

With its newly adopted Communication on a ‘comprehensive EU strategy to
promote and safeguard the rights of the child’, the Commission intends to
pursue its global action on children’s rights. One may however wonder
whether the strategy for fighting child porn on the Internet, which mostly
relies on private hotlines, is really efficient and compliant with the rule
of law.

These were the main issues raised at the afternoon session of the EC Safer
Internet Forum 2006, held in Luxembourg on 21 June, on ‘Illegal Content:
Blocking access to child sexual abuse images’. Following the invitation of
the organizers, Rikke Frank Joergensen (Digital Rights Denmark) and Meryem
Marzouki (Imaginons un réseau Internet solidaire, IRIS – France) represented
EDRI. Other speakers were two representatives of private hotlines, Helena
Karlén (ECPAT Sweden) and Peter Robbins (UK Internet Watch Foundation – IWF)
and two representatives of ISPs, Benoît Lavigne (French ISP Association,
AFA) and Sabine Frank (German Search Engine Providers, FSM). The discussion
was introduced by Ola-Kristian Off (Norwegian lawyer and former ICRA
European Director) and moderated by Richard Swetenham (Head of the eContent
and Safer Internet Unit, EC DG INFSO).

From the digital civil rights point of view, hotlines run by private
organizations, be they ISPs or NGOs, and their cooperation with the police
to remove local content or block access to it when hosted on foreign
websites, are breaching the rule of law in that the police acts as the
judging power and ISPs as the executing power, as Joergensen exemplified
with the Danish case. At the EU level, Marzouki showed how freedom of
expression and creation, transparency and accountability, as well as the
risk of massive over-blocking of legal content are at stake when courts are
left outside the process. Other important issues were related to violations
of due process and dual criminality rules and, in some cases, to the loss of
evidence, which may result in preventing accurate investigations. ISP
representatives backed to a large extent these deep concerns, with Lavigne
discussing the efficiency of filtering, as well as its side effects mainly
in terms of threats to freedom of expression, and Frank insisting on the
transparency issue.

Despite all these risks, private hotlines representatives are pushing hard
towards generalizing blocking of access, as already practiced on a large
scale in 4 European countries. The UK and the 3 Scandinavian countries are
using blocking systems like British Telecom ‘Cleanfeed’ (recently analyzed
by Richard Clayton from EDRI member FIPR – UK), or the Swedish company
‘Netclean Technologies’ products and the blocking system of the Danish
Telecom operator TDC. Karlén even proposed to interconnect hotlines all
around the world following the SETI@Home project, and to set up an
international database of URL blacklists. Showing how IWF is cooperating
with other hotlines, ISPs and the police, Robbins said that IWF intends to
share its databases with other members of the Inhope network. He also
mentioned that IWF is currently sharing its blacklists with its members,
while licensing them to non IWF members.

The latter information made Marzouki wonder during the discussion whether
these practices could lead on the one hand to commercial business, like we
have witnessed content rating bureaus selling services, and on the other
hand to a ‘least common denominator’ strategy to define illegal content
throughout the world, and at least in Europe, without any court
intervention. Other participants to the Forum took the floor to raise the
issue of privacy: when tentative access is made to blocked content, what
happens with the personal data of individuals requesting these URLs, some
indeed on purpose, but some others only incidentally, without any intention
to access child porn content?

Despite the conclusions on the need for more hotline transparency, the Safer
Internet Forum 2006 clearly showed that civil liberty organizations must
remain very vigilant against the risk of worldwide interconnection of
blacklists and massive content blocking, without any sound legal decision.

RAPID: ‘Commission launches comprehensive EU strategy to promote and
safeguard the rights of the child’ (04.07.06)

EC Safer Internet Forum 2006 (21.06.06)

Rikke Frank Joergensen: ‘Blocking access to child pornography. The Danish
Case’ (21.06.2006)

Meryem Marzouki: ‘Five Little Questions About Blocking Access to Child Porn
Images’ (21.06.2006)

Richard Clayton: ‘Failures in a Hybrid Content Blocking System’ (1.06.2005)

(Contribution by Meryem Marzouki, EDRI-member IRIS)