Finnish police are blocking more than 1,000 legal websites, including one belonging to a well-known internet activist, under a
secretive system designed to prevent access to foreign sites that contain child pornography, according to a group that advocates for individual rights online.
Among the estimated 1,700 destinations on the secret block list is lapsiporno.info, which has vocally criticized the Finnish censorship program, according to Matti Nikki, the site's creator and a long-time activist.
Of the 700 or sites that have been tested, only two are known to contain inappropriate images of children, said Tapani Tarvainen chairman of the Electronic Frontier Finland (EFFI). The remainder tend to be sites with adult-oriented themes, such as
those offering legal porn, and forums for gay sex. In some cases, the sites - which include an online doll store, a Thai Windows advice forum and a computer repair service - have no visible link to porn or sex at all.
The program has its roots in a law passed in late 2006 that was narrowly drafted to filter only foreign websites that contained child porn. To critics, the inclusion of sites like Nikki's, which is located in Finland and contains no pornographic
images of any kind, demonstrates the slippery slope that gets started once censorship is allowed.
What's more, the censorship system threatens sites that offer all kinds of content, including political forums blogs and message boards. That's because it requires Finnish internet service providers (ISPs) to block entire web servers, so a single
user posting a single inappropriate link has the ability to get an entire service shut out. As a result, plenty of legitimate sites based in the US, Europe and elsewhere, are blocked solely because they share space with a bad actor.
Nikki has been an outspoken critic of the Finnish government's censorship plan. Last Tuesday, the EFFI says, the Finnish National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) added his site to their list, but has refused to say why. Three days later, Finnish
police said they wanted to question him in connection with an investigation to determine whether he aided in the distribution of material violating sexual chastity.
The Finnish Minister of Communications, Suvi Lindén, has set up a committee to protect minors from harmful material on the internet.
According to Lindén, society needs to ensure that the internet is as safe as possible for children. She said she's surprised by the tone of recent discussions in Finland on child pornography and freedom speech.
We are talking about a serious crime. This material should be regulated just as strictly as printed material, for example, she said.
Kirsi Miettinen of the Ministry of Transport and Communications will serve as chair of the 35-member committee. The committee will operate until the end of 2010.
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 Linden, 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.
The NBI have published a statement explaining their actions, at the request pf Linden. In it the NBI stated that there are filtered sites 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.
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 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. However, some sites in the list are located in countries like the U.S., the Netherlands, Great Britain
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.
A list of websites deemed to contain pornographic images of children has been leaked to the public. The newspaper Savon Sanomat reports
that a list of some 800 web addresses put together by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) was available online for about a week.
However police have been under fire because the list also contains several harmless sites. The list still includes the critical Finnish anti-censorship site lapisporno.info.
The NBI says the party responsible for leaking the list of websites could face charges of distributing child pornography.
Finnish Minister for Justice, Anna-Maja Henriksson, is backing extending Finland's current pornography censorship to move beyond child pornography.
Under current Finnish law, the NBI (National Bureau of Investigation) maintains a blocklist of foreign sourced child pornography websites, as it cannot take direct action against them. Specifically, the Minister eyes expanding the list to involve
websites that include pornographic material showing animals, and violent porn.
The idea does not have unanimous support even within the Finnish government, however. Finland's Interior Minister, Paivi Rasanen, doubts the need to expand pornographic censorship at all. Indeed, even Finland's own child pornography blocklist has, in the
past, included websites that had nothing to do with such vile content.
To most people, animal porn also would be distasteful, if not downright sick, but does the spread of those kinds of videos or images demand the same special censorship enforcement afforded to child pornography?
Where the proposal would raise most questions however, is the inclusion of violent pornography. Who decides what violent pornography is?