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Tories research increased net censorship

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The activities, alleged activities, and destiny of the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) are a constant source of controversy in these parts, so our interest was naturally piqued by a Parliamentary question from the shadow security minister Baroness Neville-Jones last week.

In a written question, she asked her government counterpart Lord West "why the Internet Watch Foundation's list enables internet service providers to block child sexual abuse images if they are hosted abroad but does not enable them to block websites hosted abroad promoting violent extremism and terrorism."

Hmm. Could it be that the party most likely to form our next government plans to expand the IWF's mandate to blocking websites run by jihadis, animal rights lunatics and other extremists?

Well, according to according to Conservative HQ, maybe. The question was part of ongoing policy research into the IWF, it said. "We're looking at everything," a spokeswoman added, declining to comment further.

Creeping censorship has always been feared by the IWF's critics, who point to its lack of transparency as evidence of sinister intent.

The IWF was set up by the internet industry in 1996 amid fears of regulations being imposed from Westminster. It censors child abuse material by curating a secret blacklist of URLs, fed by reports from the public, law enforcement and international agencies.

The technical implementations of the list can be easily circumvented by determined paedophiles. Several smaller ISPs have declined to filter their customers' connections, arguing that obscuring disturbing corners of the web does not affect the trade in child abuse material. Child protection charities counter that their research indicates merely stumbling across such sites can trigger a descent into perversion.

An "anti-terror" blacklist is likely to prove even more controversial. While most people would rather not even think about paedophilia, fanatical political and moral opinions are relatively common.

So, are the Tories really incubating plans to expand the IWF's remit to terrorism? Technically, it would be simple: Europol, the EU's police cooperation agency, curates a list of Islamic extremist sites under the auspices of a project called Check the Web.

Or are Conservative policy researchers just firing off aimless questions? Only time will tell. ®

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