July 20, 2004

"Cleanfeed" (government censorware for UK ISP) now in effect

The "Cleanfeed" program went into effect in the UK, the system where :

... the largest internet service provider in the country [BT], with some 1m broadband subscribers, is setting up complex filtering software in its system that will refuse access to a list of web sites that are suspected of containing child pornography.

According to the BCC: (thanks, Andreas Bovens)

BT said in its first three weeks its new system, which bars access to particular sites, registered nearly 250,000 attempts to view web pages containing images of child pornography.

That represents an average of about 10,000 requests each day.

Now compare reactions where:

Pierre Danon, chief executive of BT retail, said the company was blocking access to hundreds of sites which had been identified by the Internet Watch Foundation.

But he said BT did not track those trying to log onto the sites or pass their details on to police.

And he said the company had no way of telling how many users were navigating to such sites by accident.

"We don't know their motives or who does it and honestly we don't want to know," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

A BT spokesman added: "It could be that one dedicated pervert is making hundreds of attempts to get on websites each day."


The BBC's Neil Bennett said even allowing for some people making repeated attempts, it is clear thousands of people are trying to see such material daily.

This is one of the biggest problems with censorware debates. Inflammatory numbers are bandied around with NO INDEPENDENT REVIEW. It's arguably even illegal for anyone not working with law enforcement to even attempt to check the assertions. The flashy statistic is thrown into the public discussion, and will be used, but anyone who attempts serious analysis of it is in severe legal peril.

Oh well. I've quit.

[Update: Some skepticism: ISPA seeks analysis of BT's 'Cleanfeed' stats ]

[Update 2: More skepticism: BT on child porn stats ( "pure speculation") ]

[Update 3: Still more skepticism: Porn filters ineffective against Tribbles]

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in censorware | on July 20, 2004 11:59 PM (Infothought permalink) | Followups
Seth Finkelstein's Infothought blog (Wikipedia, Google, censorware, and an inside view of net-politics) - Syndicate site (subscribe, RSS)

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thumb on the pulse...all new freedoms slowly die--sad but true--but only to be reborn time and time again anew.

Posted by: bw at July 21, 2004 09:09 AM

I think you are framing this problem correctly. If you want to research this subject you must work with law enforcement or risk "great peril".

However your article does raise one question. Why would "independent research" be guaranteed to be free of it's own "flashy statistics" agenda, and bias? Independence does not equate to purity, competence and perfection.

Posted by: Bob Turner at July 21, 2004 12:56 PM

This ZDNet UK article tries to bring some balance:

"The goals they are trying to achieve are very commendable, and they are goals we share. But it's not clear that all the issues we care about are being addressed," said Jonathan Lambeth, AOL UK's director of communications. [...]

There is [...] the possibility of legal action if a legitimate site was added to the blacklist by mistake, he said.

Posted by: Andreas at July 21, 2004 03:25 PM