An Garda Siochana seek to implement website blocking without legislation or oversight

As caught by Digital Rights Ireland:

Last year we revealed that the Department of Justice was working on secret plans to introduce internet filtering in Ireland. Now, despite a complete lack of any legislation, public consultation or democratic discussion, these plans have moved to the implementation stage.

In a letter which was leaked to us, Gardai have asked Irish ISPs to block sites designated by them, and for information about the browsing habits of users who are alleged to have visited these blocked sites. Here’s the full text of the letter:

This blocking – part of wider attempts to stop access to child pornography – is certainly well intentioned. But good intentions aren’t enough.

Experience elsewhere has shown that blocking is largely futile – easily evaded and stopping only a very small proportion of material (it wouldn’t cover, for example, peer to peer filesharing or newsgroups). Earlier this month, for example, it was revealed that Dutch ISPs have, for exactly this reason, abandoned what they concluded was “ineffective” web blocking.

Blocking is also a distraction from what should be the main focus of policing – removing material at source and identifying those responsible. Work in Germany has shown that blocking leaves material available indefinitely, when it could easily be taken down by contacting the hosting providers.

The full article is fairly disturbing and should be read by all. The action by AGS should also be protested against. Please, email Pat Rabbitte and Alan Shatter and your local TD to protest.

To: Pat.Rabbitte@oireachtas.ie, alan.shatter@oireachtas.ie, Joe.Costello@oireachtas.ie

Ministers and Deputy,
I’m writing after reading this article regarding a very recent letter from An Garda Siocahana to a private Internet Service Provider:
http://www.digitalrights.ie/2011/03/29/garda-plans-to-introduce-web-blocking-in-ireland/

As the article explains, while the AGS’s intentions of fighting child pornography are good and laudable, the mechanism they are pursuing is neither. Blocking websites not only does not work (it has been abandoned as ineffective by the Dutch police because it does not prevent peer-to-peer filesharing or any one of a number of other mechanisms); but it has been shown to cause the police to consider their job done when the website is blocked – even when that website remains on the web.

One study found that Danish police were blocking almost 170 websites in 2008, but pornographic material was found on only three of these; those three were also blocked in Sweden, Norway and Finland and had been for several years… and yet nobody ever tried to shut down the websites, they just blocked them and left the websites up as someone else’s problem. The people running the survey, out of a sense of decency, sent three emails to the ISPs who hosted those websites. Two of the three websites were shut down within 30 minutes and the third in three hours (the delay being most likely related to the different timezone the ISP was in). Had the police written those emails, the material would have been off the web two years previously and criminal prosecutions could have followed and more children would have been safeguarded.

I urge you not to support this harmful measure and to instead direct the AGS’s focus to actually going after the criminals who are the source of this material. We, of all people, with the lessons taught by our recent national history regarding child abuse, need to see children safeguarded – not simply direct our police to develop methods in secret and without legislation, debate or oversight to close our eyes to the evidence of this crime when it happens. “See no evil” is not an acceptable approach to fighting child abusers.

Yours Sincerely,

Mark Dennehy
Software Engineer


Boards.ie discussion here.

6 comments

  1. […] in Ireland in the name of preventing child pornography. Which is what studies abroad show it… [full post] Mark Dennehy Stochastic Geometry generalpolitics 0 0 0 0 […]

  2. I’m going to pinch your letter to base my own on it, if you don’t mind – way more eloquent than anything I could come up with.

  3. Is it ok if I steal this to base my own on? I’ve no hope of writing much better than “Oi! You! The hell is this about?”

  4. Is it ok if I steal this as a base? Much better start than my “Oi! You! The hell is this about?” first thoughts….

  5. Excellent post – one slight correction if I may. It was Dutch ISPs (rather than police) who recently abandoned blocking, though other studies funded by the Dutch government have also come out against blocking.

  6. Steal away and welcome!

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