UK ISPs censor Wikipedia: somebody think of the children!

In Monday's IT Blogwatch, Richi Jennings watches ISPs in the UK ban access to parts of Wikipedia, over child pornography concerns.[citation needed] Not to mention geeky Christmas ornaments...

Aunty Beeb makes use of the UK's TV tax:

Scorpions album art (cropped)
A decision by a number of UK internet providers to block a Wikipedia page showing an image of a naked girl has angered users of the popular site.

The blocked page of the online encyclopaedia shows an album cover of German heavy metal band Scorpions. Internet providers acted after online watchdog the Internet Watch Foundation warned them its picture may be illegal ... Wikipedia said it was not for the foundation to censor one of the web's most popular sites. They also argued that the image was available in a number of books and had never been ruled illegal.

But the IWF, which warns internet providers about possible images that could be linked to child abuse, said it had consulted the police before making its decision.

Cade Metz addz:

Six British ISPs are filtering access to Wikipedia after the site was added to an Internet Watch Foundation child-pornography blacklist ... [They're] routing Wikipedia traffic through a small number of transparent proxy servers as a way of blocking access to the encyclopedia's article on Virgin Killer, a mid-1970s record album from German heavy band Scorpions.

At it stands, the article includes an image of the album's original cover, which depicts a naked prepubescent girl. The cover was banned in many countries and replaced by another when the album made its 1976 debut.


The IWF ... believes the album cover image includes content that is consistent with the legal definition of child abuse, pointing out that under the UK Children Act, the only issue at stake is the content – not the intent of the publisher.

Brian McNeil, Jason Safoutin, and many others collaborate thus:

The Scorpions is the band behind "Rock You Like a Hurricane" and produced a number of controversial album covers.

The measures applied redirect traffic for a significant portion of the UK's Internet population through six servers which can log and filter the content that is available to the end user. A serious side-effect of this is the inability of administrators on Wikimedia sites to block vandals and other troublemakers without potentially impacting hundreds of thousands of innocent contributors who are contributing to the sites in good faith.


The cover was uploaded to Wikipedia in 2006, but Wikinews learned that on May 9, 2008 at (21:17 UTC), despite a result of 43 to 12 in favor of 'keep' on a deletion request, the image was deleted, but later restored a day later. Earlier on December 6, the image was put back up for a deletion request, but it was later closed as Wikimedia "does not censor".

Jack Schofield faire une pipe:

The Scorpions album was released in 1976, so it's amazing to think that civilisation has managed to survive for more than 40 years, in spite of this evil in our midst.

The IWF has not acted against or other sites that carry images of the original album cover (which has apparently been replaced by something much uglier), such as Google. Also, there are several other album covers to censor, not to mention paintings, books, movies and Shakespeare plays. Presumably it's just a matter of time.


Of course, this IWF action has done nothing to stop real child pornography.

Dave Parrack draws the obvious parallel:

As a UK citizen, I am well aware that I live in only a partly free country. In fact, I’m not even classed as a citizen, merely a subject of the Queen, which is nice. However, I wasn’t aware that Britain had a system in place to block access to certain Web sites. But it seems the UK has more in common with China than I previously thought.

The Great Firewall of China, or the Golden Shield Project, is an attempt by the Chinese authorities to stop its citizens from accessing Web sites deemed unsuitable for viewing. This includes blogs and sites containing subversive or anti-communist content. But bizarrely, it also includes the BBC and Wikipedia ... it seems China isn’t alone in regarding Wikipedia as subversive.


No-one condones child pornography apart from pedophiles and weird freedom-for-all advocates, but it’s interesting to note that the album cover in question isn’t a problem in the U.S. thanks to it passing the Miller test.

Ian Betteridge muses:

The IWF doesn't ... notify those responsible - which is why it appears that Wikimedia has not been told it is now being filtered. There is an appeal process if you get on to its censorship list - but obviously, it's fairly difficult to appeal if you don't know you're being filtered.

The IWF has performed a good and valuable function in helping to get rid of real child porn sites hosted in the UK. But this issue with Wikipedia is troublesome: there is no transparency and no notification even when the site involved is one as widely-known and valued as Wikipedia. The appeal process ultimately relies on the judgment of the police as to what might be pornographic, rather than an experienced prosecutor - and the police are, of course, inevitably (and generally rightly) going to be reluctant to allow any image which even potentially could be regarded as child porn.

We need to deal with the issue of child porn seriously and effectively - and silent black lists created by unaccountable bodies with no judicial oversight is not the best way to do it. It's a typically British form of censorship - quietly done, swept under the carpet, in the hope that no one will notice.

But Brian Ribbon offers the case for the "defence":

Under UK law, an image of a naked child is usually considered child pornography; context is irrelevant. Garda (the Irish police) reported that, between 2000-2004, 44% of "child pornography" cases in Ireland involved images which depicted no sexual activity whatsoever*. Child pornography laws in Ireland are very similar to those of the UK.

In a strict legal sense, this censorship is justified; the problem is the law itself, which should not define nudity as "pornography". The frequently used term "child abuse images" is used to invoke strong emotions and discredit those who disagree with the current laws. Don't forget that if the IWF fail to maintain outrage over child pornography, they'll lose their funding.

And Owen Thomas thinks something's rotten in the state of Wikimedia:

The fact that Wikipedia has let matters get this far speaks to the site's screwed-up culture. Erik Möller, the deputy director of the Wikimedia Foundation, Wikipedia's nonprofit parent, has defended child pornography in the past. His extremist stance is mirrored by an outspoken minority within Wikipedia's ranks of editors.

The Wikipedian child-porn fetish is disturbing. But it's a sign of a much deeper problem. Wikipedia editors love to make up bureaucratic rules. It's part of what makes the site so intimidating to new users, and why bias and misreporting so often go uncorrected on the site. Knowledgeable people are scared away by the need to engage in time-wasting arguments with bored teenagers and obsessive Internet users for whom enforcing these rules is a source of cheap entertainment.

Last word goes to Cory Doctorow:

Translation: a third party now monitors every request made to Wikipedia from the six ISPs that participate in the Great Firewall of Britain.

Update to this story: Climbdown in Wikipedia censorship brouhaha

And finally...

Buffer overflow:

Other Computerworld bloggers:

Like this stuff? Subscribe to the RSS feed.

Richi Jennings is an independent analyst/adviser/consultant, specializing in blogging, email, and spam. A 23 year, cross-functional IT veteran, he is also an analyst at Ferris Research. You can follow him on Twitter, pretend to be Richi's friend on Facebook, or just use boring old email:

Previously in IT Blogwatch:

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

Shop Tech Products at Amazon