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ISPs tapped for emergency copyright hotlines

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Authorities worried that the imminent exam season will see questions leaked online have appealed to ISPs for help arranging for them to be pulled from the web quicker.

The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA), which is responsible for producing national curriculum assessments and the security of papers, said it was worried that normal procedures for removing illegally posted copyright material online were not fast enough.

"Previous instances of unlawful publication of QCA copyright material have demonstrated that the usual public routes for the notification of a copyright breach (which may be sufficient for dealing with post-exam publication of papers) may not react swiftly enough to limit the damage in an emergency pre-test publication," the QCA wrote.

To help speed up the process, the authority has asked hosting firms to supply it with an emergency hotline phone number, staffed by employees authorised to take down pages. It also asked for the hotline to be manned outside working hours.

The QCA's letter, signed on behalf of its director of corporate and legal affairs Carol Copland, said: "Maintaining secrecy and confidentiality in relation to national curriculum test questions, especially in the period prior to the test, is a matter of critical importance to QCA and a matter of public interest."

She promised only to use the contact information "in genuine emergency situations".

Trefor Davies, CTO of business ISP Timico, said his firm would be happy to supply a takedown hotline number, but warned UK ISPs would only be able to act when they are hosting exam questions.

"I can see a problem with the approach," he said. "It is quite possible for kids to upload this information to non-UK-based sites who might not be interested in helping the QCA and who indeed the QCA will never have heard of."

Nicholas Lansman, secretary-general of internet trade association ISPA, said whether to "take the extra step" of offering an out-of-hours emergency takedown was a matter for individual ISPs. "It's very clear that this is not about blocking or stuff that's hosted elsewhere," he said.

Qualifications authorities worldwide are fighting a battle with cheats online. As well as the fear that exam questions could easily be published if leaked, an active market in assessment essays has emerged. In 2007, UK universities applauded Google after it bowed to pressure to stop serving adverts for such services.

This year's national curriculum exams, sat by 7, 11 and 14-year-olds, begin next week. The QCA appealed to ISPs to supply emergency contact details as soon as possible. ®

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