CDT attacks anti child-porn law

ISP blocking

A US civil liberties group has attacked an anti child pornography law because it potentially blocks access to legal sites.

The Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) said that a recent Pennsylvania law that forces ISPs to block access to numerous Web sites without adequate court oversight was unconstitutional.

The law force ISPs with Pennsylvanian customers to block subscribers from at least 420 Web sites around the world which supposedly contain illegal photographs. Failure to comply with this law can result in a $5,000 fine.

However, CDT has argued that because ISPs must block Web sites based on their Internet Protocol (IP) address, sites that are completely unrelated to child pornography could also end up being blocked. This is because most Internet Web sites share their IP addresses with many other unrelated Web sites, said CDT.

Indeed, a study by Harvard University researcher, Benjamin Edelman, released on Thursday found that 85 percent of Web addresses ending in .com., .net, or .org share their IP addresses with at least 50 other Web sites.

As such, commented CDT, the law is an unconstitutional restriction on free speech and amounts to punishing everybody in an apartment block because of one tenant's activities.

"Child pornography is abhorrent and cannot be tolerated in a civilised society, but the Pennsylvania ISP law attempts to fight child pornography through means that are unconstitutional and technically flawed," said CDT Associate Director Alan Davidson in a statement. "This law does little to punish the producers of child pornography, but blocking sites that are not pornographic will have serious ramifications for free expression and the stability of the Internet."

Only once has an Internet provider challenged the law, which was introduced in 2002. WorldCom said that while it found child pornography to be repugnant, the introduction of filters on behalf of Pennsylvania citizens would affect all their subscribers in North America from visiting thousands of Web sites "completely unrelated in content and ownership" as the illegal material.

The Pennsylvanian Attorney General, Mike Fisher, has defended the law as an effective method of blocking access to Internet-based child pornography. "It has worked in nearly every case," a spokesman for Fisher told Associated Press.

The spokesperson added that in cases where an illegal Web site shares an IP address with an innocent site, the authorities contact the ISP and orders them under threat of legal action to pinpoint and shut down the illegal pornographic site.

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