Internet censorship

Internet censorship is the control or suppression of the publishing of, or access to information on the Internet. It may be carried out by governments or by private organizations at the behest of government, regulators, or on their own initiative. Individuals and organizations may engage in self-censorship for moral, religious, or business reasons, to conform to societal norms, due to intimidation, or out of fear of legal or other consequences[1].

What is it?

The blocking of content on the Internet from users in a country by a government or provider. This can be done because the content is prohibited by law or because the content is considered morally objectionable, or because the government or company does not like what is being said.

Executive Summary

The UK government has consulted on this issue and has concluded that people do not want the government to censor the Internet for them. However people do want the option of being able to download tools that help them control what they and their children will see on the Internet.

Most ISPs undertake limited censorship of web sites as a result of the threat of legal action from the police. They now block sites identified as containing child pornography and criminally racist content.

ISPs can be required to remove (or block access to) information of use to terrorist.

On the 15 May 2006 Vernon Coaker, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office set a deadline in a written answer of the end of 2007 for all ISPs to put in place technical measures that prevent their customers accessing websites containing illegal images of child abuse identified by the IWF.

The Times reports that the Britain's film censor is suggesting that it could provide the first classifications for content of the internet.

Exactly what is censored is unknown however in 2008 the cleanfeed list contained:

Blocks covering  %
Entire sites 28
Individual pages with no extension at the end 18
Individual pages with .html or .htm extensions 10
Individual pages with image extensions 32
Individual pages other extensions 12

http://web.archive.org/web/20081212084629/http://www.chiark.greenend.org.uk/pipermail/ukcrypto/2008-December/085789.html

Problems and Concerns

False positives. The identification of material as problematic when it is actually harmless. For example, Vodafone's 3G services has been observed blocking technical blogs perhaps due to the sexuality of the author [1] even during outages to censorship system components.

Enforcement of a one-size-fits-all world view. Filters prepared by liberal organisations may block material from conservative organisations creating a unilaterally imposed barrier to free speech. Just because liberal ideas are popular (perhaps correctly so) does not mean that illiberal voices are always factually incorrect. There is a real danger of ignoring genuine problems or strong expressions of emotion because those voices cannot be heard. Similarly a liberal filter may allow content a conservative parent may not permit for their child. Finally a conservative filter may block material a liberal parent may be happy for a child to see.

These issues require that the implementation of censorship move away from ISPs and into the hands of parents. Simplistic laws mandating censorship at the ISP level may create real social harm.

Background

On the 15 May 2006 Vernon Coaker, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office set a deadline in a written answer of the end of 2007 for all ISPs to put in place technical measures that prevent their customers accessing websites containing illegal images of child abuse identified by the IWF.

UK internet service providers (ISPs) continue to lead the world in tackling this issue and the majority are committed to taking all steps available to them to prevent users accessing illegal images of child abuse. This is evidenced, for example, by their commitment to and funding of the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) and the reduction in the proportion of illegal sites reported to the IWF that are hosted in the UK from 18 per cent. in 1997 to 0.4 per cent. in 2005.
Recently, it has become technically feasible for ISPs to block home users' access to websites irrespective of where in the world they are hosted. It is clear from the various meetings that Ministers have had with the ISPs, that the industry has the will to implement solutions to block these websites. Currently, all the 3G mobile network operators block their mobile customers from accessing these sites and the biggest ISPs (who between them provide over 90 per cent. of domestic broadband connections) are either currently blocking or have plans to by the end of 2006.
We recognise the progress that has been made as a result of the industry's commitment and investment so far. However, 90 per cent. of connections is not enough and we are setting a target that by the end of 2007, all ISPs offering broadband internet connectivity to the UK general public put in place technical measures that prevent their customers accessing websites containing illegal images of child abuse identified by the IWF. For new ISPs or services, we would expect them to put in place measures within nine months of offering the service to the public. If it appears that we are not going to meet our target through co-operation, we will review the options for stopping UK residents accessing websites on the IWF list.

Section 3 of the Terrorism Act 2006 a measure that allows a constable to require ISPs to remove (or block access to) information of use to terrorist will instead need prior judicial approval.

In December 2000, a Communications White Paper stated that research suggests people want tools that help them control what they and their children will see on the Internet, "rather than third party regulation" and that government and industry partnership provides the best approach.

In this area, therefore, we will expect OFCOM to continue to support the Internet Watch Foundation's work to allow Internet users to regulate their own Internet experience, or that of their children, by using rating and filtering systems
it is important ... that users are aware of the tools available, such as rating and filtering systems, that help them control what they and their children will see on the Internet. Research suggests that this is what people want in relation to the Internet, rather than third party regulation.

A UK NGO named the Internet Watch Foundation has been established by Internet Service Provider associations to implement proposals to deal with illegal material on the Internet, with particular reference to child pornography and criminally racist content. The IWF's establishment followed the London Metropolitan Police sending a letter to all Internet Service Providers on 9 August 1996 requesting them to censor Usenet news groups or else police would find it necessary to prosecute ISPs in relation to illegal material made available via their systems.

ORG Censorship Monitoring Project

The ORG Censorship Monitoring Project aims to deploy a number of probes connected to various fixed-line and mobile ISPs to be able to test which sites are blocked by the various ISPs. The project aims to build on the blocked.org.uk reporting site and is in its initial stages.

Campaign against censorship on the Internet

Amnesty International together with The Observer and Soda Creative launched a campaign called irrepressible.Info against the increasing governmental censorship of the internet. The campaign asks governments to stop censoring websites, blocking emails or shutting down blogs and make an appeal to the big corporations to stop supporting these actions.

Outside the UK

There has been criticism of Internet companies doing business in China for compliance with censorship and breaches of user privacy. The US Congressman Tom Lantos (D-San Mateo/San Francisco) told the companies that they had accumulated great wealth and power, "but apparently very little social responsibility"

Your abhorrent actions in China are a disgrace. I simply don't understand how your corporate leadership sleeps at night.

Quotes

Parry Aftab, an Internet privacy and security lawyer and executive director of WiredSafety.org, argues that educating children about potential dangers online is the way to keep them safe. "No one in any country, no matter how well meaning they are, can block everything," she says. "It's about education. And most of it has to be done at a home, school, or kid level. It's the only way to protect them."

Links

Documents

The best place for information on this is Internet Censorship: Law & policy around the world, Electronic Frontiers Australia have done a very good job of covering this issue.

News

2008-01-17 - The Guardian - Caught in the web
Author: Frank Fisher
Summary: When asked to name countries that impose extensive internet censorship, you might think of China, Iran, or North Korea; I doubt you'd think of the UK, but, after the home secretary Jacqui Smith's speech to the International Centre for Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence today, you really should. Smith's headline-grabbing proposal, to use the same tools against "extremist" websites as are currently used against child pornography, should worry us all. Few hard details are available, but if we take her at her word this is a dangerous extension of government powers, with a dangerous lack of oversight.
2007-10-02 - The Guardian - Online censorship hurts us all
Author: Cory Doctorow
Summary: Since 1995, every single legislative initiative on this subject in the UK's parliament, the European parliament and the US Congress has focused on making it easier to suppress "illegitimate" material online. From libel to copyright infringement, from child porn to anti-terror laws, our legislators have approached the internet with a single-minded focus on seeing to it that bad material is expeditiously removed. And that's the rub. I'm certainly no fan of child porn or hate speech, but every time a law is passed that reduces the burden of proof on those who would remove material from the internet, artists' fortunes everywhere are endangered. Take the US's 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which has equivalents in every European state that has implemented the 2001 European Union Copyright Directive. The DMCA allows anyone to have any document on the internet removed, simply by contacting its publisher and asserting that the work infringes his copyright.
2007-09-04 - The Register - 'Happy slapping' vids prompt Brown to push net filters
Author: John Leyden
Summary: The availability of gore and violence on the internet has prompted the UK Government to consider backing a campaign to encourage wider awareness and use of net-filtering software. Gordon Brown has ordered ministers to work with ISPs and media watchdog Ofcom to devise a strategy to regulate access to smut and violence online. Early ideas include plans to educate parents about the use of net-filtering software (aka censorware). Ofcom has been asked to develop a kite-mark scheme to certify net-filtering products, The Sun reports. There will also be a review on whether new rules are needed about the marketing of some products to youngsters.
2007-07-04 - BBC - 'Extreme' porn proposals spark row
Summary: Plans to ban "extreme" Internet porn sites and criminalise possession of "Images of consensual, or fictitious, acts between adults" are included in the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill, as a result of the murder of Jane Longhurst.
2007-07-04 - The Register - EC wants to suppress internet bomb-making guides
Author: Lewis Page
Summary: The European Commission (EC) has announced plans to frustrate terrorism by suppressing online guides on bomb-making. When asked how the EC planned to suppress web bomb manufacture instructions hosted outside EU borders, it appeared that officials planned to act at the level of ISPs in Europe. If the UK papers' reports are correct, Frattini and his advisors are fantastically ignorant of internet realities.
2007-07-04 - The Times - Website bomb-making lessons to be outlawed across Europe
Author: David Charter
Summary: Placing instructions on how to make a bomb on the internet will become a criminal offence across Europe under plans outlined by Brussels yesterday. ... Internet service providers (ISPs) would face charges if they failed to block websites containing bomb-making instructions generated anywhere in the world, EU officials said. ... But the Internet Services Providers’ Association (Ispa) said that it would fight any attempt to make ISPs criminally liable for content.
2007-07-04 - The Telegraph - DIY bomb websites to be banned by Brussels
Author: Bruno Waterfield
Summary: Internet sites showing how to make bombs or which make "public provocations aimed at inspiring criminal action" are to be banned under the European Commission's antiterror measures this autumn. ... Internet service providers would face charges if they failed to block websites with bomb-making instructions.
2007-06-13 - The Telegraph - Blair backs new online journalism regulator
Author: George Jones
Summary: Tony Blair hinted today at new restrictions on internet journalism, saying online news coverage had become "more pernicious and less balanced" than traditional political reporting. But he had particularly harsh words for non-traditional media outlets, particularly the internet. ... he said the regulatory systems for papers and TV needed to be revised. Currently they are monitored by separate watchdogs.
2007-05-22 - The Register - Amnesty Int to hold web censorship conference
Author: Mark Ballard
Summary: Amnesty International and the Observer newspaper have called a conference against internet censorship and repression. The interactive global event will be held on 6 June at 18:30.
2007-05-18 - BBC - Global net censorship 'growing'
Summary: The level of state-led censorship of the net is growing around the world, a study of so-called internet filtering by the Open Net Initiative suggests. The study of thousands of websites across 120 Internet Service Providers found 25 of 41 countries surveyed showed evidence of content filtering. ... Jonathan Zittrain, Professor of Internet Governance and Regulation at Oxford University, said the organisation was also looking at the tools people used to circumvent filtering.
2007-05-10 - Metroblogging Bangkok - New Cyber Bill rushed through
Summary: Thailand's National Legislative Assembly approved a controversial law this week which could seriously effect how Thailand's internet users use the web. The main effect of the bill is to outlaw any attempt at bypassing government censors to access any of the thousands of sites that have been censored due to their moral or political purposes. This single law could put Thailand in the same category as China and Burma with regards to censorship and the lack of a democratic right for free speech.
2007-04-23 - Routers - China aims to further tame Web
Summary: A state-run news network in China reported Monday that China's President Hu Jintao has launched a campaign to cleanse the nation's booming internet of "unhealthy" content, and make it a more effective platform for Communist Party doctrine.
2007-04-09 - Bloomberg - Putin Tightens Internet Controls Before Presidential Election
Author: Henry Meyer
Summary: President Vladimir Putin has already brought Russian newspapers and television to heel. Now he's turning his attention to the Internet. As the Kremlin gears up for the election of Putin's successor next March, Soviet-style controls are being extended to online news after a presidential decree last month set up a new agency to supervise both mass media and the Web.
2007-03-14 - Fiancial Times - Web censorship spreading globally
Author: Richard Waters
Summary: Internet censorship is spreading rapidly, being practised by about two dozen countries and applied to a far wider range of online information and applications, according to research by a transatlantic group of academics.
2007-02-19 - ZDNet - Amnesty: ISPs must protect free speech
Author: David Meyer
Summary: The human rights group Amnesty International has called on internet service providers to do more to protect free speech online.
2007-01-27 - The Guardian - China censorship damaged us, Google founders admit
Author: Jane Martinson
Summary: Google's decision to censor its search engine in China was bad for the company, its founders admitted yesterday. ... Asked whether he regretted the decision, Mr Brin admitted yesterday: "On a business level, that decision to censor... was a net negative." ... Since moving into China, Google has been compared to Microsoft because of its dominant position and power. "We are very sensitive to people talking about us in that way," said Mr Brin. Mr Page described the differences between the two technology companies by saying "we have very open partnerships, we are very clear about being fair with revenues."
2007-01-26 - Forbes - The Google Guys In Davos
Author: Hannah Clark
Summary: Brin and Page also responded to the criticism that erupted when Google agreed to work with the Chinese government last year to limit search results in that country. Up until that point, Google had been fairly immune from the criticism that plagues most big companies. Brin said the damage to Google's image made the deal a "net negative." But Page wouldn't say it was a bad move. "I would hate for us as a company to make what we think is the wrong decision for people in China based on our reputation." ... Brin said he was instinctively opposed to the deal because he was born in the Soviet Union. "Having felt that kind of oppression, I would never have wanted to compromise in that direction." His opinion changed, he said, when he talked with Chinese people about it. "They’re really proud of what China has accomplished. They feel that as much information as can go into China, the better off it is."
2007-01-18 - Financial Times - Internet firms repond to China critics
Author: Jonathan Birchall and Richard Waters
Summary: Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and Vodafone have announced an agreement with human rights groups, internet freedom activists and others to establish a set of principles covering how they deal with censorship and other restrictions that could harm human rights in China and elsewhere.
2007-01-03 - BBC - School shock at vandal web video
Summary: ... Unfortunately, any yob or vandal can now have their 15 minutes of fame, aided and abetted by readily accessible technology and irresponsible internet sites which enable such behaviour to be glorified. [The general secretary of the union] said the union supported a zero tolerance approach in schools to pupils who used technology to abuse and undermine teachers, and called for more rigorous legislative control of internet sites which gave them license.
2006-12-29 - The Register - IWF reforms could pave way for UK net censorship
Author: Wendy M Grossman
Summary: By the end of 2007, the Home Office intends that all ISPs "offering broadband internet connectivity to the UK public" will have implemented systems for content blocking, primarily intended to block access to pornographic images of children, which are illegal to view or possess in the UK.
2006-12-19 - The Guardian 
Comment is free - Can Newt nix the net?
Author: Lauren Weinstein
Summary: Newt Gingrich's plans to censor the Internet are doomed to failure. Newt is searching for policy buttons to push that will score with voters, and one of his latest wacky brainstorms is to promote government censorship of the Internet. He's not just talking about ill-advised and unworkable schemes that would restrict "harmful" materials only to adults - he wants to actually shut down websites, starting with ones that promote what he calls a "jihadist" message.
2006-12-05 - ars technica - Iran: A "world power" of censorship
Author: Nate Anderson
Summary: When Internet users think of government censorship, they often think of China, which runs the world's largest filtering operation. But Iran's not far behind, and a recent spate of new blocks has now cut off access to Wikipedia, the Internet Movie Database, YouTube, and Amazon for most Iranians
2006-12-04 - The Guardian - Censorship fears rise as Iran blocks access to top websites
Author: Robert Tait
Summary: Iran yesterday shut down access to some of the world's most popular websites. Users were unable to open popular sites including Amazon.com and YouTube following instructions to service providers to filter them.
2006-11-27 - BBC - web censorship 'bypass' unveiled
Summary: A tool has been created capable of circumventing government censorship of the web, according to researchers.
2006-11-24 - Slashdot - The Great Firewall of Canada
Summary: Canadian carriers Bell Aliant, Bell Canada, MTS Allstream, Rogers, SaskTel, Shaw, TELUS, and Videotron have all opted in to a blacklist, dubbed Project Cleanfeed Canada, provided by Cybertip.ca, the Canadian tip-line against child exploitation.
2006-11-22 - ars technica - "Psiphoning" data past the censors
Author: Nate Anderson
Summary: Countries like China and Saudia Arabia regularly censor the Internet, which means that some citizens in those countries are regularly trying to evade the government blocks. Come December 1, they'll have a new tool — Psiphon. The project's goal is to allow surfers in countries with censored 'Net access to connect to web proxies posted in uncensored countries. Unlike other anonymizing or proxy services, Psiphon relies on "networks of trust" to distribute the proxy addresses, hopefully making Psiphon nodes more difficult to find and block.
2006-11-17 - Boing Boing - ACLU sues over SmartFilter in libraries
Author: Cory Doctorow
Summary: The Washington ACLU is suing a library system over its use of SmartFilter's defective censorware.
2006-11-17 - Boing Boing - China re-blocks Wikipedia
Author: Cory Doctorow
Summary: Both English and Chinese versions of Wikipedia have been blocked once more. That didn't take long.
2006-11-16 - BBC - China 'unblocks' Wikipedia site
Summary: China's year-long block on the online encyclopaedia Wikipedia has been lifted.
2006-11-08 - Silicon.com - Enemies of the internet named and shamed
Author: Tim Ferguson
Summary: A list of 13 countries that represent a threat to freedom of expression on the internet has been published by human rights campaigners Reporters Without Borders.
2006-11-07 - BBC - 'Enemies of the internet' named
Summary: "We wanted to mobilise net users so that when we lobby certain countries we can say that the concerns are not just ours but those of thousands of internet users around the world," Reporters Without Borders
2006-11-07 - Guardian Comment is free - Click for freedom
Author: Julien Pain
Summary: Across the world, there are currently 61 people in prison for posting "subversive" content on a blog or website.
2006-11-05 - The Guardian - China forced to face its critics over internet censorship
Author: David Smith
Summary: Officials from China, Iran and other nations notorious for censoring websites and persecuting bloggers heard speakers at the inaugural Internet Governance Forum denounce restrictions on freedom of expression online. The IT corporations Google, Microsoft and Cisco Systems were made to defend their businesses in China. Microsoft admitted that it might have to consider quitting the country.
2006-10-31 - CNET News.com - China: We don't censor the Internet. Really
Author: Declan McCullagh
Summary: China has long drawn heightened scrutiny because of the breadth and sophistication of its Internet censorship. Which is why it came as a surprise on Tuesday when a Chinese government official claimed at a United Nations summit here that no Net censorship existed at all. The only problem: Few cases of Net censorship are as carefully and publicly documented as the Great Firewall of China. A study by researchers at Harvard Law School found 19,032 Web sites that were inaccessible inside China.
2006-10-27 - BBC - Free speech online 'under threat'
Summary: Bloggers are being asked to show their support for freedom of expression by Amnesty International. The human rights group also wants web log writers to highlight the plight of fellow bloggers jailed for what they wrote in their online journals.
2006-10-20 - Ars Technica - British MP wants to rid YouTube of violent videos
Author: Anders Bylund
Summary: A couple of British politicians are up in arms about online videos of random acts of violence, and want "legal controls" to curb their spread. Yesterday, Commons leader Jack Straw argued for such measures to be added to the Violent Crimes Bill up for discussion next week.
2006-10-20 - Ars Technica - Jordan bans, then unbans Skype, citing security
Author: Jacqui Cheng
Summary: The Jordanian government sent out letters ordering ISPs to block Skype, but lifted the ban a month later.
2006-10-16 - The Register - EU plans to block terror sites, but doesn't know how
Author: John Lettice
Summary: A meeting of EU interior ministers held in August in the wake of the 'liquid bomb plot' arrests called for the acceleration of European plans to tackle terrorism, and as part of these, for measures to "tackle the use of the Internet by terrorists to radicalise young people, spread messages of hate and plan mass murder" (see Home Office announcement). Ah yes, but how?
2006-08-17 - The Times - We'll make web hostile ground for terror, say ministers
Author: Richard Ford and Sean O'Neill
Summary: Signor Frattini said that the internet should be made a "hostile environment" for terrorists. "I think it’s very important to explore further possibilities of blocking websites that incite to commit terrorist actions"
2006-08-17 - IT Analysis - Political censorship of search engines
Author: Bob McDowall
Summary: The UK Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee recently used a report in which it stated that “search engines’ agreement to block the access of computer users to certain information (in China) was ‘morally unacceptable’”. Moreover it called on the UK government “to put pressure on China's political leaders to relax its curbs and allow services to be unrestricted.” These are strong word with very little likelihood of achieving any direct results.
Note: Also in The Register Net censorship 'morally unacceptable', report says
2006-06-29 - Guardian - Surfing with a safety net
Author: Sean Hargrave
Summary: That ultimatum was announced last month by the parliamentary under secretary for policing, security and community safety, Vernon Coaker. In a written parliamentary answer (http://tinyurl.com/mfjg9) he assured MPs that the Home Office was expecting broadband ISPs to install web-filtering technology voluntarily by the end of next year but, if this deadline is not met, he would - he hinted strongly - consider legislation to force them to
2006-06-19 - The Times - Board of censors wants net classified
Author: Jack Malvern, Devika Bhat and Will Pavia
Summary: The British Board of Film Classification want to have stab at classifying content on the net. Simon Davies, of Privacy International, which campaigns for freedom of expression, told The Times: "It sounds like the most stupid intervention since the registration of fax machines and photocopiers in communist China."
2006-06-19 - Guardian - BBFC takes on web censorship
Author: Bobbie Johnson
Summary: The British Board of Film Classification - the official censor which tells us what can reach cinemas and what can't - says it envisions being able to censor what's on the net.
2006-05-28 - Slashdot - Amnesty International vs. Internet Censorship
Author: CmdrTaco
Summary: Amnesty International has a new online campaign against governments which censor websites, monitor online communications, and persecute citizens who express dissent in blogs, emails, or chat-rooms. The website, Irrepressible.info contains a web-based petition (to be presented at a UN conference in November 2006) and also a downloadable web gadget which displays random excerpts of censored material on your own website.
2006-05-07 - Yahoo News - Google.com blocked in China: media watchdog
Summary: The Google.com search engine has been blocked in most parts of China, as Beijing steps up its efforts to restrict the public's access to information.
2006-05-07 - BBC - Net censorship spreads worldwide
Author: Mark Ward
Summary: Repressive regimes are taking full advantage of the net's ability to censor and stifle reform and debate, reveals a report. Information from Reporters Without Borders internet annual report 2006. The RWB study details and decries the rising tide of net censorship and lays the blame squarely on the west as the source for the technology that allows repressive regimes to stifle freedom on the web." From the article: "China's success at censorship means it has effectively produced a "sanitised" version of the internet for its 130 million citizens that regularly go online. The wide-ranging scrutiny also means that it is the biggest jailer of so-called cyber dissidents. RSF estimates that 62 people in China have been jailed for what they said online."
Note: Also pointed to by Slashdot Reporters Without Borders Internet Annual Report
2006-04-18 - Australian It - Giants say no to porn filter trial
Author: Andrew Colley
Summary: Australia’s two biggest ISPs, Telstra and Optus have refused to help with a trial of technology that will help ISPs filter web content before it reaches users PCs, stating that they believe the current censorship regime (with users being provided with individual PC software to use or not as they see fit) is more than adequate.
2006-04-03 - The Register - Anonymizer looks for gaps in Great Firewall of China
Author: John Leyden
Summary: Anonymizer has gone live with a service that aims to circumvent Chinese censorship restrictions.
2006-02-01 - BBC - Lords defeat terror internet plan
Summary: Plans for new anti-terrorism controls on websites have led to a government defeat in the Lords - by just one vote.
2006-02-01 - The Register - Net censorship hits 'all time high'
Author: John Leyden
Summary: Internet restrictions, government secrecy and communications surveillance have reached an unprecedented level across the world. A year-long study of Internet censorship in more than 50 countries found that a sharp escalation in control of the Internet since September 2001 may have outstripped the traditional ability of the medium to repel restrictions.
2006-01-25 - ars technica - Google bows to Chinese demands
Author: Anders Bylund
Summary: When the news broke that Google—in contrast to MSN, Yahoo!, and AOL—refused to comply with a DOJ subpoena asking for search information, some observers applauded Google for their strict interpretation of the "don't be evil" mantra. Today, the search giant's squeaky clean image faces a serious challenge, as the company announced a revamped Chinese search site, which openly complies with Chinese government censorship.
2005-08-30 - BBC - Ban on violent net porn planned
Summary: Plans to criminalise accessing and possessing "violent" Internet porn are announced.

References

  1. wikipedia: Internet censorship