Demonstrations planned to protest internet censorship in Finland

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Tuesday, March 4, 2008

On March 4, 2008 a demonstration against censorship is planned to be held at the Finnish Parliament, part of the continuing controversy over the Finnish Internet child porn filter. The organizers of the demonstration expect at least two-hundred participants, with representatives of the digital rights organization Electronic Frontier Finland (Effi) and several political parties will also present.

The controversy arose after the Finnish National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) blacklisted censorship critic Matti Nikki's site. Matti Nikki himself is now under criminal investigation for aiding in the distribution of child pornography, as he published a large portion of the filtering blacklist on his still-censored website. MP Jyrki Kasvi has made an official inquiry in the Finnish Parliament on the matter, and Effi has filed an official complaint to the parliamentary ombudsman.

The Finnish Minister of Communication, Suvi Lindén, and the NBI have been severely criticized over the filtering system, which has been under heavy scrutiny by the media. After stating that she will not tolerate discussion criticizing the filtering system, as the situation is not a matter of freedom of speech, a petition was signed by over 12,000 people demanding her resignation. This was accompanied by a Thai civil rights group questioning the blocking as child porn of a memorial site dedicated to a member of the Thai royal family. Eventually the NBI removed the memorial site from the blacklist, explaining that the DNS based system blocks only whole sites, and that there was child pornography site under the same domain; this raised questions about the efficiency of the filtering system.

Lindén later admitted that she did not know the details of the filtering system, as it had been established by her predecessors, before the change of government in early 2007. She has nevertheless defended the system, citing the protection of children, but admitted that there are problems with the Finnish system, and in other countries with similar systems.

The NBI have published a statement explaining their actions, at the request of Lindén. In it the NBI stated that there are filtered sites that do not contain any child pornography, but claimed that it was not their fault, rather a side effect of the system. They also noted that they are planning to address this issue by switching from a DNS based filter to a URL based system.

According to a prominent Finnish expert of filtering technology, the planned URL filtering would cost least two million euros. This estimate comes at the same time that the government cut back funds for work against child abuse, causing further uproar.

The NBI's official position is that they block pornographic sites where the actors look too young, and sites which link to these sites. The argument for the filtering is that there is a large amount of child pornography on the Internet, most of it based on servers in countries where the authorities are indifferent to the issue.

The general opinion after analysis by multiple people is that the list of at least 1,700 sites contains a handful of actual child pornographic sites, most of which are not located in Western countries. However, some sites in the list are located in countries like the United States, the Netherlands, United Kingdom and Germany, and very few of those contain even questionable or borderline material. Dutch journalist Karin Spaink reviewed 40 sites on the list which were physically located in the Netherlands. She concluded that some of the sites have illegal child pornography, and that four of those are also blocked in the Netherlands by their equivalent filtering system. She estimated that about half of the 40 did not contain any illegal material.

Effi's response to the NBI's statement was that the issue with censorship is not technical but that it has no place in an open, democratic society.


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