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back to article Scorpions tale leaves IWF exposed

As the dust settles over the Internet Watch Foundation's (IWF) little local difficulty with Wikipedia, the question that needs to be answered is whether this was all just storm in a teacup - or the beginning of the end of a conveniently complacent relationship between government and the internet industry. Can the IWF now return …

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One identified fail vs how many wins?

Yeah cool so the IWF might have borked on a subjective evaluation of a level one image.

Something like that was ALWAYS going to be a tricky call, and as Struan's comments in the other article suggest, some of the culpability for mass Wiki-blocking falls on the ISPs themselves.

However, the majority of the IWFs blocks - not to mention their other work, is to be praised. I'd rather they were there than not, ya know?

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WFT is Web 4.0?

You just made that up didn't you.

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Potentially illegal!!!!

Surely all images on the internet are "potentionally illegal" to a greater or lesser degree.

If these clowns persist I think we should bury them with reports of every picture we encounter on the web.

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Anonymous Coward

Definitely Damaged

Nice analysis. The IWF has definitely been damaged by this incident. That is entirely of its own making and it should have seen it coming. Lacking any kind of transparency and accountability something like this was going to happen sooner or later.

Nobody doubts the intentions and hopes of the IWF, but as V said to Dr Delia, "I didn't come for what you hoped to do, I came for what you did."

An open discussion needs to be had about the IWF's methodology, its approach, transparency and a challenge mechanism needs to be put in place. Mud sticks, and if the IWF accuses you of child porn then that slur will stay there for a long time to come, innocent or not.

People are rightly asking questions and they need to be answered.

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Anonymous Coward

Rick Roll? Google?

It's worth noting that the hits per day onto the Virgin Killer page of wikipedia has gone from ~400 to ~400K.

After the literally thousands of copies of the `offending' picture that a Google image search (on google.co.uk with strict safesearch turned on) turned up, I was tempted to submit the results of the search or, perhaps, the search itself to the IWF. You can imagine a sort of low-taste Rick-Rolling, where every page leads ultimately to a dodgy seventies album cover (Lovedrive and Animal Magnetism are equally dodgy in different ways).

But ultimately this is going to be bad for all of us. if the IWF loses credibility, the alternatives are likely to be worse.

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Bronze badge

Censorship is wrong

This article mentions that the 'production' or 'posession' of an image that _IS_ 'over the line' is already illegal. There is therefore no need to block stuff that is borderline.

Far better just to log it - if you stray too close to the line either in production or viewing then you can expect a visit from the law and a close investigation.

By blocking anything that comes close, you just drive it all underground - this is just a repeat of the whole mp3 fiasco - the studios are finally learning that they cannot defeat file sharing by criminalising it, and the same is true here.

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The problems here

Are that this is a self elected body. The government only got involved in as far as they asked all ISP's to use the IWF or face having regulation forced upon them.

Being a self elected body means they are not truly accountable to anyone but themselves. This is a bad idea.

The second problem here is that they are technologically behind the times and their effectiveness appears to be unproven and in fact as the wiki incident has shown in fact, disruptive.

Then of course there is the whole issue of whether people should be censored in this way at all. The whole point of freedom is that you can do and say what you like (within the bounds of the law of your locality). If you break your local laws intentionally then that is your choice.

Censoring of the internet takes away that choice. Good or bad.

Please refer to 'A Clockwork Orange' to see why this is a bad thing.

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Anonymous Coward

Title

I detest the thought of encountering inappropriate or offensive content (to me personally) through whatever medium, TV, Internet, newspaper or magazine. I don't like the fact that, as my children grow older and begin to make use of the Internet, they are likely to come across similar inappropriate material.

However, I would still prefer to sit down with my kids and try to discuss with them why some material is ok and some is inappropriate rather than try to explain to them why the web browser window is empty and that there will always be some decisions about their life made for them.

Censoring one possibly inappropriate image at one location - who cares. Sadly the immortal words always accompany censorship of any form - 'Why stop there?'

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Stop

Bigger Fires To Fight On The Way...

"Less child porn is hosted in the UK than in any other Western nation, and a high proportion of material that seeps through from abroad is quickly blocked."

So little, infact, it's becoming increasingly hard to even make the case for having the IWF. You can check the IWF's own reporting on the issue here: http://www.iwf.org.uk/documents/20080417_iwf_annual_report_2007_(web).pdf - and you'll see the UK plays host to practically no CP at all. So the IWF acts as policeman to the rest of the world..?

"Then, too, there is growing resentment of the way that the authorities have closed ranks to make debate on issues of child "safety" a taboo issue."

There is no discussion: there will be no dissent. Anyone who disagrees can find themselves vilified and humiliated as a potential enemy of 'right thinking people'. The media (Reg honourably excepted, of course) seem terminally disinclined to engage in any form of meaningful debate on the modern Inquisition and child protection scares, which all helps the government and judiciary rearrange the furniture just the way they want it without bothersome interference.

"Second, as a senior member of ISPA remarked recently, the IWF's efforts are costed and resourced according to what it does now. If a by-product of adverse publicity is a growing level of activist complaints designed to disrupt their working, they may find it difficult to cope, as well as find their operation exposed to greater and greater levels of public scrutiny."

I don't think we need to worry about that - the IWF have expressed disinterest at policing, say, 'extreme porn' websites (that is, unless they receive considerably more government money and staffing as an incentive to broaden their remit) and I doubt their corporate 'stakeholders' would have as much enthusiasm for funding the ferreting out of facsimile S&M bondage fantasies between consenting adults as they currently do for the PR-friendly business of Paedo hunting.

But the IWF will survive this little storm in a teacup: it's corporates are going to stick around as long as there's good mileage in their association with 'protecting kids'...so, for quite a while, then. For critics, I'd suggest there are bigger fires to fight: CEOP have their sights set on criminalising the 'possession' of cartoons, drawings and wholly CG imagery of an 'indecent' natures - no real people involved at all, folks (not even 'pseudo-photographic'). It's been in Parliamentary consultation since June of last year.

'Possession' of such material would result in prison sentences - CEOP are arguing for similar tariffs as those currently handed out for possessing actual photos of actual (real) kids. Coming to a law court near you soon.

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Web 4.0?

Did I miss a couple of feeble minded, wooly Internet concepts then?

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Either thus have told them to eat dirt...

...or there is something wrong with my internet because I can see it.

It seems that it might be the subject of some controversy however:

"This page is currently protected from editing until December 11, 2008 because of edit warring."

Whether it should be seen or not is another matter.

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Black Helicopters

Fear

My fear is that the unsuitability of the current system will result in its replaced by something a lot worse.

It's prime time for "Won't somebody think of the children?" to rear its ugly head.

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Call me ignorant

But I had no idea my traffic was being snooped and sent to a third party for filtering. Now that I know I'm not happy.

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Paris Hilton

Couldn't help but giggle

..at your description of the IWF. In a previous life, I worked for a consultancy and had to deal with these muppets. They really are the self-appointed guardians of la-la land, and do so on the basis of very little authority.

I'd also bridle a bit at the "formed by ISPs" part, but don't let that detract from an entertaining article.

Remember, throughout all of this, when challenged you simply need to yell:

It's PAEDO-GEDDON!

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Anonymous Coward

What I want to know is...

Where does my book burning ISP display a list of banned pages?

Don't get me wrong, child pornographers should be burnt, but since they've got the technology, I can't believe it's not being used for other purposes.

This of course automatically makes anything I download completely legal, since if it were illegal, then the government should have instructed the ISPs to put it on the list.

The government aren't looking very clever at the moment, they've just given a completely legitimate excuse to anyone looking at deviant porn.

This means that anyone looking at a woman pretending to be whipped, or something truly sickening but tolerated, such as men committing anal sex, can be justified in the knowledge that it's legal because the government could make it disappear.

Am I alone in thinking our cabinet aren't too bright?

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Virgin Killer Controversy

NOTE: looks like the IWF has blocked the "Virgin Killer Controversy" page too.

This just lends credence to the tinfoil hat brigade, and make even us sane people question whether they are trying to cover this up. OK, the page does include the image, it still leaves questions over how much they are blocking.

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Ed
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Good article

Thank you for a fair minded and thought provoking piece.

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Black Helicopters

What else is blocked?

Looking at the IWF's site I cannot see a list or partial list of blocked URL's. I can understand this as it could be used as a list for ppl to hunt down offensive material.

What I dont know though is what of my URL requests are affected by this or any other organisation my ISP decides to align with. Surely if my request for data is interrupted by IWF then I could get a response saying this is the case. If I just get a 404, how can I reliably and quick assertain that the problem is IWF/ISP rather than the server I am requesting from.

Also how can I know what organisations my ISP subscribe to in this manner?

So many questions, so few answers (virgin media tech support are not forthcoming). Do I have a right to any of this information?

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the bigger picture

Good article as far as it goes John - but what about government? You forget that the IWF has this power, and ISPs enforce their will, because this Labour government bullied ISPs into doing so. There's no law underpinning this, no offence is committed by ignoring the IWF - but because there is no law, what can you challenge? This was Jimmy Wales' point this morning - they dont' even know if they can sue!

The IWF is unaccountable and they're clearly out of control - there needs to be a statutory approach to this. Myself I'd prefer no censorship, but it it's there it needs to be open, transparent and on a legal footing - and you have to ask yourself why government is so opposed to that approach....

I'ev been writing about this crap for damn near 20 years - it's always been a minefield, always had internal inchoherence; the problem has always been that because the censors are seen as having a "good cause" no one is preparered to challenge them publically.

Wlel hopefully that's on the way out.

Article from me on Cif later today btw, come play.

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Coat

Why don't the IWF tackle phishing too?

Same mechanism should "work" against phishing sites - and if they lob up a banner that says "you thick tosser, they were trying to steal your money" the message might start to get across that you don't click on links in messages from "people" you don't know - even if they are offering larger manhood or $20 million from a deceased american in Lagos.

Coat please.

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And that's not all...

Let me point out another glaring flaw in this system of censorship, perhaps the most serious of all.

There are obviously going to be borderline cases. Getting the borderline right requires public debate. But the public can only participate in this debate by risking a term in jail.

Is that democratic? No. It's authoritarian and a recipe for censorship to creep into every aspect of our lives. And once the model is established, if you think it'll remain restricted to sexual content, then think again.

People are right to be outraged by this.

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Anonymous Coward

One thing I don't get...

The IWF claim not to be able to block individual images, only entire pages...

What exactly is the difference between blocking:

www.somewebsite.com/somepage.html

and

www.somewebsite.com/someimage.jpg

As I understand it, especially with regards to the extreme porn law, there has to be some "intent to excite" when the image is taken for it to be "extreme porn" as opposed to just indecent or distasteful.

Frankly, I think I'll complain to the ASA about Baby Oil or Nappies adverts showing extremely young children stark naked on the TV! Someone should get a visit from the paedo-hunter general about it.

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I'm more worried about the NEXT emperor

Looking ahead the problem may be that the IWF eventually gets replaced or significantly reshaped - now that could be a good thing, but it could also be very bad. Given the current moral panic and stories like this...

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/12/08/simpsons_supreme_court/

...(admittedly in Australia not the UK, but part of the same hysteria) how confident do we feel that there won't be a knee jerk reaction and the introduction of more restrictive practices?

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Blame the Met

The IWF was initially set up in something of a rush in 1996 because the Met was threatening to raid a UK ISP and launch a test case over it carrying newsgroups with illegal content.

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Alien

Web 4.0 ???

Wot in the bleedin' blue blazes is Web 4.0 ? Wikipedia only defines up to Web 3.0 (and even then, in impossibly vague terms). As everyone knows - if it ain't on Wiki, it doesn't exist.

Alien, in the hope that amanfrommars defines Web 4.0 for me.

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Paris Hilton

...they may find it difficult to cope

I've reported Google to them, because this image is contained in its cache. So they've either got to start filtering every access to Google, or else explain why not. And passing every Google access through a single proxy server is going to need a rather large proxy.

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Unhappy

@Frank Fisher

Frank Fisher:

"Article from me on Cif later today btw, come play."

I hope you conduct some research and discover some facts.

"there needs to be a statutory approach to this .... and you have to ask yourself why government is so opposed to that approach"

Very easy to understand. Government regulation will require government effort and government money. To avoid the burden of government regulation the ISPs were allowed self regulation. Rather than risk an MP proposing proactive checking of content we have a scheme that only has to react to reports. Rather than require every ISP to have their own staff to assess content the ISPs pooled resources. Rather than have differing assessments across ISPs a central organisation provides a single decision.

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Screw the IWF

These dirtbags are starting to piss me off. It's a good thing I live in the US....but their effect is even felt here with some US companies that offer content worldwide....see Easynews (usenet) for example. C'mon Brits, aren't you sick of people telling you what you can and can't look at? Grow some balls for christ's sake! Disgusting!

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Anonymous Coward

Where Is This Heading....?

My other half has a 3 year old son. Great little lad, full of energy, a scream like Ian Gillan and bounces around like Zebedee on PCP. Likes me, which is good cos if he didn't then I wouldn't have my gf.

With this context and following the IWF's logic to its conclusion....

Am I going to have leave the house when my other half’s son has a bath or has his nappy changed because some flueless cuckwit thinks I might get aroused by it?

What happens when my other half asks me to look after him when she's working late and his nappy needs changing? "Oh my God! Man who isn't boy's father sees toddler's genitals and scat!" Am I supposed to change his nappy blindfolded?

This is a far far bigger issue than the IWF and Struan Robertson seem to think.

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Anonymous Coward

Not in my service contract

I've checked the terms and conditions from my service provider and as far as I can see they haven't authorised themselves to filter my traffic and I suspect this is the case with most. This seems to suggest that filtering internet traffic may be a material breach of contract.

Does anyone know if this is a reasonable interpretation?

Personally I don't object to reasonable filtering but I would damn well like them to own up in the terms and conditions and say what they are going to do so I can check on it.

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Paris Hilton

@Jared Earle

"There are some who argue that this has already happened"

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Unhappy

Hypocrisy?

While our govenment bleats about "protecting children" on one hand, they can't be bothered to secure data well enough to prevent the loss of information belonging to 5000 young school children!

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Flame

The IWF doesn't "block" anything

You sound like a spanked spammer, accusing the RBL maintainer of "blocking" his crap, rather than questioning the mail admin who is using the RBL on his network. The admin, who freely chooses to use the RBL, can do whatever the hell he likes with his network, because it's HIS, PRIVATE network. Blacklists are not being imposed on anybody: you can use them or not use them as you see fit on your PRIVATE network. If you don't like the fact that your ISP uses a blacklist on his PRIVATE network that he lets you use, then you can change ISP.

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Ed
IT Angle

Google Images

I've submitted this URL to IWF:

http://images.google.co.uk/images?um=1&hl=en&safe=off&q=virgin+killer&btnG=Search+Images

I'm curious to know what their response will, or most likely won't, be.

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J
Paris Hilton

@AC "What I want to know is..."

"Am I alone in thinking our cabinet aren't too bright?"

That could very well be, but it seems you have shown *yourself* to be "not too bright" either... Had you been paying attention, you'd have noticed that IWF has nothing to do with government.

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Burn the IWF down

It's just a self-serving knee-jerk body, judging images on highly subjective moral criteria rather than -even distantly- legal basis (which, given the laws' level of dumbness on that matter, is an impressive feat). Why ban the Scorpions picture, and not the "save the third world children" charities? They do show pics of naked kids, clearly victims of some kind of abuse in some cases.

Actually, the IWF and its ISP minions/masters are very similar to the Great Firewall of China.

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Puritanist Censorship endangers Western Culture

It is very worrying, that an album cover that has sold thousands of copies over the past 30 years can not be presented or discussed on the Internet. The design clearly tried to provoke the establishment and it is not a design I would use, but I wouldn't have a problem showing it to my children. If you want to judge for yourself see http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/3/33/Virgin_Killer.jpg

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Alert

Indecent?

Does this look indecent to you? [Flash warning]

http://www.iwf.org.uk/images/facts/20071018_923.swf

Maybe someone should report it to the IWF.

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Stop

RE:Captain Jamie

If this is carried to its logical conclusion, then everyone will be forced to shower/bathe while wearing clothes in case they see a naked body.

I wondered what happened to the taliban's anti-vice unit....................

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Starting to use encryption

My editing of wikipedia got disrupted by this censorship stupidity so I now use https. I dislike this control freak government intensely with its scaremongering and hate fermenting, the way they want to tag everyone and pry into everybodys' business at a detailed level, put cameras everywhere track the cars and mobile phones,listen in to conversations read email collect web browsing history etc etc. I guess soon even https will be intercepted if it isn't so already so they can monitor us real time even with that and they'll ban us from encrypting things any other way because anyone might be a terrorist or pervert. The stazi were only playing at being secret police, how can one be proud of and want to be part of such a society?

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Anonymous Coward

Ban this outrage now!

http://www.brickshelf.com/cgi-bin/gallery.cgi?i=3285505

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IWF statement

http://www.iwf.org.uk/media/news.251.htm

The IWF appear to have had an attack of common sense, although they still haven't decided if it is actually illegal or not..

"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."

I don't know what time this was posted, or when the updated list comes into effect. Eclipse are still blocking the page at 19:30 GMT.

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Ed

@ Elrond Hubbard

Surely your own country should sort out it's own censoring issues (internet gambling anyone?) before telling us to run our own matters.

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The IWF is dead.

Cue the sound of panicked back-peddling:

http://www.iwf.org.uk/media/news.251.htm

"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."

This must surely be the end of the IWF. It's time for something more accountable to take its place.

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IWF Backs Down..!!!!

I see the IWF has cut and run - magically the image which was pornographic is now no longer. Or it's too old. Or something...

Anyway, it's no longer blocked. Leaving those who meekly said "Well, I have no opinion, because I can't look at the image in case I get sent to jail" looking a little foolish. And the IWF looking like yesterday's men.

I wonder how many other images of the same kind are still blocked, and how many people are jailed for possessing them...

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Anonymous Coward

how this happened

I have a fairly good idea how this all happened.

If you look at the IWF site you'll see that any web surfing prude can submit URLs to the IWF (http://www.iwf.org.uk/reporting.htm). I'm guessing some lacky at the IWF then goes through the probably huge list of everything that's been submitted to check if each URL is obscene or not. Said lacky is probably not an expert in the law or technical matters (which is why the page rather than the image was listed) and has no information about which images have been previously deemed acceptable and which have not.

If my guess at how the system works is correct, it will never be able to cope with the huge amount of material that is being added to the net every second. Any attempt to "fix" the system will probably result in something much more draconian and evil than what we have now (which has been shown to be rather quaint).

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@Frank Fisher

"There's no law underpinning this, no offence is committed by ignoring the IWF - but because there is no law, what can you challenge? [...]

"The IWF is unaccountable and they're clearly out of control - there needs to be a statutory approach to this. Myself I'd prefer no censorship, but it it's there it needs to be open, transparent and on a legal footing - and you have to ask yourself why government is so opposed to that approach...."

Excuse me? This is the Government which has brought in the Extreme Porn laws and which plans to make it illegal to possess *drawings* of "child abuse" amongst other things!

The only reason they haven't put a law in place yet is probably because they haven't found the time to do it or there hasn't been a sufficiently media friendly "moral outrage" to which their knee can jerk!

This Government is clearly out of control and has no idea about what its legislation will actually achieve, nor, indeed, how it will achieve it (see the Ministry of Justice's "Guidance" on Extreme Porn which basically says "let the courts sort out our mess") and you want them to introduce *more* legislation?

You've written some good articles in the past, but in this case I think you've got it wrong.

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Flame

Oh, so there's a review process?

"Following representations from Wikipedia, IWF invoked its Appeals Procedure"

So it turns out there /is/ an appeal process. Cute - they've been keeping that /really/ quiet. Mind you I bet they only accept appeals from the page "owner" which means the very person who has no clue (how often do you visit your own website from an external IP?).

And as for the "image in question is potentially in breach" - guys, either it is or it isn't. If your lawyers can't decide then it isn't. That's how criminal law works remember -innocent till proven guilty. This isn't a civil matter where reasonable doubt can be applied.

Anyway look out for the IWF DDOS wars - report a page, wait till its blocked, appeal it. Repeat in a tight loop till someone's fuses blow or the server melts....

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Sky Broadband Terms are incorrect

From the Sky Broadband Terms and Conditions page:

"We have put technical measures in place to prevent you from accessing certain websites that contain illegal images of child abuse that are identified from time to time by the Internet Watch Foundation ('IWF')."

Isn't this incorrect? (they refer only to "illegal images of child abuse", but have chosen to block images that were not clearly illegal, and which the IWF did not say were clearly illegal).

Should we be concerned that Sky updates their Terms and Conditions to state what they really do? It appears they breached their contract with their users?

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Flame

IWF admits they were wrong.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/7774102.stm

How stupid are you then? Insisting that this ban was justified?

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