It had to happen, and it has. Ever since the Internet Watch Foundation, a British charitable organisation that acts as the official watchdog to track and report illegal content online, in particular child pornography, introduced a blacklist we all knew it would get controversial one day. That day has come.

That blacklist is used by a number of leading Internet Service Providers in the UK, companies such as Virgin Media, Demon, O2, EasyNet and PlusNet to name but a few. So when someone reported that Wikipedia was displaying a 'potentially illegal' image of young naked girl with only a crack in the camera lens covering her below stairs area, the IWF sprung into action. It investigated and assessed the image "according to the UK Sentencing Guidelines Council" a spokesperson says. The result being that the content was "considered to be a potentially illegal indecent image of a child under the age of 18, but hosted outside the UK." because the IWF does not issue takedown notices to companies outside the UK, it instead notified a "law enforcement partner agency" and then added the specific Wikipedia URL to the blacklist in order that ISPs could "protect their customers from inadvertent exposure to a potentially illegal indecent image of a child."

Which all seems OK, after all nobody wants child porn popping up on their computer when they are browsing something educational such as Wikipedia. Trouble is, the whole notion that this is child porn is a dodgy one. Indeed, the notion that the image is illegal is equally debatable.

The image itself, in fact, is the cover of a forty year old album from the German rock band The Scorpions. The 1976 album, entitled Virgin killer, caused controversy at the time and the cover art was quickly replaced with a less controversial one. However, owning that original album does not, to the best of my knowledge, make you a paedophile or mean you are breaking the law. All it means is that you have criminal musical taste.

Even if you think that the actual censorship issue itself, in this particular case, was OK the story does not end there. Wikipedia users in the UK are apparently having problems in dealing with edits, while admins are having trouble blocking spam and banning users who need banning. Why so? because the way that the ISPs have managed traffic (with transparent proxies) courtesy of that blacklisting means that everything has been going through a relatively small number of IP addresses.

What's your take on this? Does Wikipedia need censoring, or should you simply stop searching for porn if it offends you? Does the image in question really constitute child porn? Is there a better way of handling such censorship issues?

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About the Author

A freelance technology journalist for 30 years, I have been a Contributing Editor at PC Pro (one of the best selling computer magazines in the UK) for most of them. As well as currently contributing to Forbes.com, The Times and Sunday Times via Raconteur Special Reports, SC Magazine UK, Digital Health, IT Pro and Infosecurity Magazine, I am also something of a prolific author. My last book, Being Virtual: Who You Really are Online, which was published in 2008 as part of the Science Museum TechKnow Series by John Wiley & Sons. I am also the only three times winner (2006, 2008, 2010) of the BT Information Security Journalist of the Year title, and was humbled to be presented with the ‘Enigma Award’ for a ‘lifetime contribution to information security journalism’ in 2011 despite my life being far from over...

That's been there forever.... no-one complained before, actually there's a number of other articles that only pass on a few technicalities.
Anyone who's ever read Encyclopedia Dramatica can point you in the direction of thousands of borderline Wikipedia articles.

Yeah, just looking at the photo, it doesn't seem that unless someone pointed it out anybody would wonder about the girl in the photo's age. She looks like she's young, BUT if it's not illegal then she must be of the right age to be in that picture. It seems that this IWF must be an irritating group of political activists who are out to control what everyone watches. Granted, we need watchdog groups out there to get civilians organized so that they can assist local law enforcement, it can still get out of hand when people push for enforcement of their views on things that aren't even illegal.

Would be interesting if an old rock album was the cause for the demise of net neutrality