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Germany pushes IWF-style child abuse blocklist

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The German government has proposed regulations that will oblige local ISPs to apply a government-mandated block list.

The proposal, from the Ministry for Families, is designed to prevent access to child pornography. Federal Family Minister Ursula von der Leyen told a conference in Berlin that a "binding agreement" with major ISPs will be available as soon as early March, Der Spiegel reports.

The proposed list would be updated daily and appears to function in much the same way as a similarly motivated blocklist maintained by the UK's Internet Watch Foundation (IWF). One difference is that IWF is independent of government and its list is applied on a voluntary basis by UK ISPs, whereas the German plan involves a state-administered scheme.

The IWF's blocklist has become controversial of late, particularly because recent attempts to block offensive images in the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine continue to leave the entire archive intermittently unavailable to some users at ISPs that apply the blacklist. In December, the IWF responded to a complaint over images in a Wikipedia entry on Virgin Killer, a 70s album by German rockers The Scorpions, by blocking the content.

Once the filter came down surfers visiting the site from ISP who applied the control appeared to come from a single IP address, a factor that meant Wikipedia removed their ability to edit the "free encyclopedia anyone can edit". The image of a naked pre-pubescent girl contained in Virgin Killer remained widely available outside Wikipedia.

Days after applying the control, the IWF agreed to lift the ban, while maintaining that the Virgin Killer image is "potentially in breach" of UK anti-obscenity laws.

The two examples illustrate that blocklists, which serve a useful purpose in blocking offensive content, can be something of a blunt tool. The German government blocklist can expect to encounter the same sort of problems hit by the IWF list of late.

German civil liberties activists are also concerned that the role of the list will be expanded over time. Such a mission creep in the functions of the systems could, for example, allow a future hypothetical German administration to block access to abortion-advice websites or other content that somehow becomes "unacceptable".

The minister rejected arguments that future censorship concerns are any reason to avoid applying a system to control access to content universally regarded as repugnant. "Child pornography is a problem issue and clearly identifiable," von der Leyen said. ®

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