There are people in New Zealand who choose to view pictures of children in sexual situations. Sometimes they obtain these pictures over the Internet.
As a society we generally find these pictures repugnant for many reasons. They may also be illegal. In any case, we want to stop them being viewed or traded.
The Digital Child Exploitation Filtering System
The Department of Internal Affairs has been given funding in this year’s budget to operate a filtering system that blocks websites containing pictures that depict the sexual abuse of children.
The filters will block websites, but will not apply to email, file sharing, or other channels that use the Internet.
The list of filtered websites will not be made public, for fairly obvious reasons.
Report a site
If a member of the public comes across a Web site they feel should be blocked, they will be able to report it. A Code of Practice to guide which sites should be blocked is being developed. An independent group will also oversee everything.
Concerns about filters
Some commentators have aired concerns about this new filtering system. Questions they have raised include:
- Will the scope of these filters creep over time? For example, what if those in charge of the filters decide to block websites that show pictures of adults engaged in consensual sex? Or sites with pictures of mothers breast feeding? Or dating websites? Or sites that encourage free speech? This is a common concern when censorship is discussed.
- Given that the filters are being applied to only parts of the Internet, won’t those seeking out the banned images find them by alternate routes on the Internet? For example, websites will be banned, but email is not being filtered.
- Sites to be filtered will be added manually to the list. Typically those who operate sites trading in illegal or undesirable material move them quickly and often. Will the filters be able to keep up?
Voluntary participation by ISPs
Our Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are able to join or leave the filtering scheme as they wish: it is voluntary.
Whether you agree with the filtering or not, you should ask your ISP whether they are participating in the scheme so that you can be fully informed about the services you are receiving.
This filtering is a new feature on our Internet landscape. If you use the Internet you should inform yourself more fully about what is planned and how it will work. Here are some sources to consult:
- Digital Child Exploitation Filtering System (DIA official information).
- Web filter will focus solely on child sex abuse images, 16 July 2009 (DIA media release).
- Draft Code of Practice: Digital Child Exploitation Filtering System (PDF, 180Kb) (DIA official information). The code is open to public comment until 28 September 2009. Have your say.
- Thomas Beagle’s comments on Internet filtering.
Later thoughts …
Since writing this deliberately neutral article several weeks ago I’ve thought a great deal more about this issue. I’m now convinced that taxpayers are wasting money and effort on this initiative.
It will introduce the danger of wider censorship that can be misused and is unlikely to benefit the children who are subjected to sexual abuse. It is also unlikely to catch any but the least savvy of those who choose to seek out and view such images.
In my opinion we should be spending this money to support the efforts of those actually out ‘in the field’ preventing the sexual abuse of women and children, and bringing the perpetrators to justice. I wrote more about that in Internet Filtering: Expensive hand-waving.
Originally written by Miraz Jordan for CommunityNet Aotearoa Panui, September 2009. This article has been modified for publication here and reflects Miraz’s personal views, not those of Communitynet Aotearoa or the Deprartment of Internal Affairs.