IWF talk about lessons learnt from the album cover blocking on Wikipedia
Peter Robbins, chief executive of the IWF, answered questions from ZDNet UK about the fallout from the decision to block the Scorpions album cover on Wikipedia:
What issues are there with people's perceptions of what the
IWF does? Surely it's generally agreed that blocking child sexual abuse images is a good thing?
Yes, but the suspicion is about what else is on the [block] list. In the light of the Wikipedia incident, there is a deep suspicion of
what's on the list. How do people know it's indecent images of children being blocked and not, say, politically sensitive information? The last thing we want is to have our list compromised by having sites on the list outside of our remit.
Why did you decide to block the Wikipedia image of the Scorpions album cover?
It's about judgements you make about images. On Wikipedia there was an image of a prepubescent girl with no clothes on posing
provocatively, and that fails UK guidelines. However, the image has been around for a long time.
If the image was provocative, why did you unblock it?
We didn't want to be arguing about the legality of
blocking it if people were proliferating the image, copy and pasting it. We wanted to get back to our core business of notice and takedown, to get to websites around the world.
Will you change how you assess images in the
light of the Wikipedia incident?
We are going to change our systems to deal with the context and the history of the image, and whether the content is available on an innocent site. We learnt lessons from this.
The international controversy surrounding the banning of the German heavy-metal band Scorpions' cover art for their 1976 album 'Virgin Killer' from Wikipedia is nothing new. Rock and roll has always been a form of rebellion challenging societal
norms. Album cover art has often served a similar function, pushing the envelope of what people find too lewd, repulsive, or indecent.
article from welt.de (warning includes
uncensored Virgin Killer cover)
Why the IWF was wrong to lift its ban on a Wikipedia page
The Internet Watch Foundation faced a storm of criticism this
week over its decision to add a Wikipedia entry to a blacklist of pages that ISPs block. Under pressure, the IWF removed the image from its blacklist. That decision was a mistake.
IWF posted the following statement on their website about the blocking of the original cover art for Scorpion's Virgin Killer album:
A Wikipedia webpage was reported through the IWF's online reporting mechanism on 4 December
2008. As with all potentially illegal online child sexual abuse reports we receive, the image was assessed according to current UK legislation and in accordance with the UK Sentencing Guidelines Council. The content was considered to be a potentially
illegal indecent image of a child under the age of 18, hosted outside the UK. As such, in accordance with IWF procedures, the specific webpage was added to the IWF list. This list is provided to ISPs and other companies in the online sector to help
protect their customers from inadvertent exposure to potentially illegal indecent images of children.
Following representations from Wikipedia, IWF invoked its Appeals Procedure and has given careful consideration to the issues involved in this
case. The procedure is now complete and has confirmed that the image in question is potentially in breach of the Protection of Children Act 1978. However, the IWF Board has today (9 December 2008) considered these findings and the contextual issues
involved in this specific case and, in light of the length of time the image has existed and its wide availability, the decision has been taken to remove this webpage from our list.
Any further reported instances of this image which are hosted
abroad, will not be added to the list. Any further reported instances of this image which are hosted in the UK will be assessed in line with IWF procedures.
IWF's overriding objective is to minimise the availability of indecent images of children
on the internet, however, on this occasion our efforts have had the opposite effect. We regret the unintended consequences for Wikipedia and its users. Wikipedia have been informed of the outcome of this procedure and IWF Board's subsequent decision.
Offsite Comment: Scorpions tale leaves IWF exposed
According to the IWF, no one has ever questioned its judgements before. No doubt this would continue to be the case, so long as it confined its attentions to sites and imagery that are clearly produced by child abusers for child abusers.
Unfortunately, it cannot pick and choose who to take on. The Children Act penalises the production and possession of
indecent images of children. The bulk of images against which the IWF acts are categorised as level one, involving some element of sexual posing of a child. This is both the least serious category, and the category where there is likely to be most
public debate as to whether an image actually is indecent.
Some images - shock, horror - are neither clearly one thing nor another.
So the scene was set for the IWF to take a fall. Gone is its record for 100% undisputed blocking. Gone,
too, is its reputation for being the undisputed good guy. Many people have looked at the image in question and have taken the view that it is not porn, or indecent, or abuse. Having made that judgement, they have started to ask questions about other
imagery that the IWF has sought to block.
Internet censors review the over cautious ban on album cover
The IWF should also take on board the responsibility not to criminalise innocent people by declaring a no sex image to suddenly be porn. In a time when police are keen to take any
excuse to prosecute, a blocked image becomes a de-facto illegal image, even if it is clear to everybody that there is no pornographic element whatsoever.
It all makes you wonder what people have been imprisoned for up until now. Have people been
put in prison for similar images to this?
The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) is reviewing its decision to list as child pornography the image on one version of the album Virgin Killer by the rock band The Scorpions hosted on Wikipedia – and might yet add Amazon US to its list of
blocked sites for hosting the picture.
The initial decision to block the image, taken on Friday, prevented UK contributors from editing the site, and blocked some people from seeing the site at all (although they were still able to view it
through Google's cache).
The decision to ban the page, which was taken after consultation with the UK's Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) agency, is now being reviewed, Robertson said. The assessment was done in partnership with
The Scorpions image was deemed to be 1 on a scale of 1 to 5, where 1 is the least offensive , said Robertson. The image was judged to be erotic posing with no sexual activity . It depicts a young naked girl with
her genitals obscured by a crack in the camera lens.
Robertson declined to say whether Amazon would be the next to be blocked. She confirmed that the Amazon page containing the offending cover was referred to the IWF today, but that no decision
would be taken while the review of the original decision was in progress.
The decision has put the IWF's methods and systems under the media spotlight. Normally the IWF, which is paid for by the EU and through a levy on the internet industry,
works quietly away in its Cambridge offices. A team of four police-trained analysts plough through 35,000 URLs sent to them each year that are under suspicion of being obscene.
If an image or text page contains obscene content and is
hosted in the UK, the relevant ISP is contacted and the content removed. But if it is hosted abroad, it is added instead to a blacklis" to which access is prevented by BT's CleanFeed technology. Any attempt to access that page returns a Page Not
Richard Clayton, one of the country's leading internet security experts said: We see this borderline stuff all the time; it's a no-win. The decision seems to have been based on taking the image out of context, something
which might seem pretty strange - particularly given that you can go into HMV and buy a copy on the high street.
The main outcome – apart from highlighting the way the British internet is censored – might be to highlight the lack of
cooperation between British authorities and other international bodies, he said.
The image under consideration was previously considered by the FBI in the US and they decided not to act against it.
The following notice has appeared on Wikipedia today when many UK users attempt to edit content:
Wikipedia has been added to a Internet Watch Foundation UK website blacklist, and your Internet service provider has
decided to block part of your access. Unfortunately, this also makes it impossible for us to differentiate between different users, and block those abusing the site without blocking other innocent people as well.
discussions on the Wikipedia administrators noticeboard, this is because a transparent proxy has been enabled for customers of Virgin Media, Be/O2/Telefonica, EasyNet/UK Online, PlusNet, Demon and Opal. This has two effects: users cannot see content
filtered by the proxies, and all user traffic passing through the proxies is given a single IP address per proxy. As Wikipedia's anti-vandalism system blocks users by IP address, one single case of vandalism by a single UK user prevents all users on that
user's ISP from editing. The effect is to block all editing from anonymous UK users on that list of ISPs. Registered users can continue to edit.
The content being filtered is apparently that deemed to meet the Internet Watch Foundation's critera
for child pornography – in one case, this involves a 1970s LP cover art for Scorpion's Virgin Killer which, although controversial, is still widely available.
Reports on the admin noticeboard say that this filtering is easy to circumvent, either
by using Wikipedia's secure server or by sending a request to find the page via parameters in the URL. However, no fix has been found – nor is one expected – for the blocking of anonymous authors problem.
Makes you wonder what is being prosecuted these days
Whether a particular image is or is not indecent and of a child
will be facts to be determined by a particular jury on a particular day, when judging a particular image.
The IWF clearly believe that the Wikipedia images they are blocking access to would be so determined. The ISPs involved clearly must think
so too, and they will have taken legal advice before moving to block access to such a popular site. That alone should give you some idea of the kind of images which are being prosecuted in the courts in this country.
It also puts into perspective
some of the claims made previously by the IWF about the quantity of sites they encounter which contain child abuse images.
Child porn allegations? Weird. It looks like an album cover to me - hardly something primarily
produced to cause sexual arousal is it? That is the current legal definition of pornography if I`m not mistaken.
And I can hardly see this photo being classified as an indecent image of a child either. I can`t see how an artistic shot
of a reclining 8 year-old with all the naughty bits obscured by a broken glass effect could be.