Finland: Blocking of domestic websites ruled illegal

By EDRi · June 1, 2011

This article is also available in:
Deutsch: [Finnland: Sperre heimischer Webseiten rechtswidrig |]

The Helsinki Administrative Court has ruled that domestic websites may not
be placed on the secret blocking blacklist maintained by the police.

This is the latest turn in a long legal fight by Finnish activist Matti
Nikki, whose website (translates as “”) was
put on the secret blacklist in February 2008 and has remained on the list
ever since.

The Finnish blocking blacklist is based on a law passed in 2006 that allows
the police to create and maintain a secret list of websites in order to
prevent access to child pornography on foreign websites. The blacklist is
distributed to Internet service providers (ISPs), who may direct attempts to
access blacklisted sites to a page which says access is blocked due to the
child pornography blocking list. Using the secret blacklist is optional for
ISPs, but the Communications Minister at the time, Suvi Linden, made public
statements in 2008 that if the ISPs did not start using the list
voluntarily, it would be made mandatory. After an initial wave of adoption,
the list has been silently falling into disuse.

Nikki criticized the secret blacklist vocally, and discovered a large part
of the secret list by trying to load websites that he found links to. When
he published the list of websites he had discovered to be blocked, police
accused him of distributing child pornography and eventually put his website
on the secret blacklist.

One of Nikki’s findings was that the top five Google search results for “gay
porn” were all blacklisted, even though there was nothing related to
children on the sites. Other brilliant highlights from the secret blacklist
include (yes, the World Wide Web Consortium!) and the memorial
page of a deceased Thai princess. An officer of the Central Criminal Police
famously quipped “Google is a browser” when asked why Google is not
blacklisted even though its search results contained the same links for
which Nikki’s pages were placed on the blacklist.

Nikki appealed to the Administrative Court about his website being on the
secret blacklist. The Administrative Court ruled in May 2009 that it was not
possible to complain about being on the blacklist. Nikki appealed to the
Supreme Administrative Court, which ruled in September 2010 that indeed it
was possible to complain about being on the list and thus cleared the way
for complaints by Nikki and others who thought their sites had been put on
the list without a valid basis.

The case was returned to the Administrative Court, which has now ruled that
domestic sites may not be placed on the list. However, the court did not
rule on whether Nikki’s site could be blocked if it were abroad. Thus, legal
uncertainty continues as to precisely what kinds of websites may be blocked.

One of the three judges filed a dissenting opinion to the ruling. In his
view, is circumventing the law by “distributing foreign
child porn via a website in Finland”. Nikki’s site does not in fact
distribute child pornography in any way. It only contains domain names from
the secret blocking list, all of which appear to host legal content. Out of
nearly a thousand domain names that Nikki found to be on the blocking list,
only a dozen seemed to contain illegal content and Nikki withheld them from
the list on his website. Nikki has instead reported actual child porn
websites to the police himself – only to find them still online a year
later as they turned up on the police’s blacklist. Nikki has also analysed
child porn distribution mechanisms and suggested methods for attacking the
phenomenon, but these have fallen on deaf ears. Chasing criminals in
“inaccessible” countries such as USA, UK and continental Europe might entail
real work – it seems easier to just sweep the criminal activity
under a carpet.

The Administrative Court held that Nikki had to pay his own legal fees,
because “since the law is unclear, inclusion of his website on the blacklist
cannot be seen to have resulted from an error by the authorities”. This
sends a message that complaining about actions of authorities, even if they
acted against the law, will be expensive for a citizen.

Nikki is again considering an appeal to the Supreme Administrative Court. At
the same time, IFPI Finland has started a court process to block The Pirate
Bay at ISP level, which would – if successful – create a new category of
blocked sites.

The court ruling (only in Finnish) IFPI Finland orders Elisa internet service provider to prevent its
clients from accessing Pirate Bay website

IFPI Press Release (only in Finnish)

EDRi-gram: Finland: Complaints not allowed for the Police child-porn
censorship list

EDRi-gram: ENDitorial: Finnish web censorship

(Contribution by Timo Karjalainen- EDRi-member Electronic Frontier Finland