Delays likely for Irish child porn internet filter


27 Jul 2004

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on RedditEmail this to someone

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on RedditEmail this to someone

Esat BT does not expect to launch its new internet filtering system in Ireland until later this year, although the technology has already been deployed by its parent in the UK. Several legal and administrative hurdles remain to be addressed before such a service can go live here.

Called BT Cleanfeed, the tool prevents BT Retail customers from accessing a list of websites identified by the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) as containing images of child pornography. Anyone who tries to access one of these sites, deliberately or accidentally, will instead see nothing more than an error page. In the weeks since the service went live, BT claimed the filter was blocking thousands of attempts to access paedophile websites every day.

According to Esat BT spokesperson Una McGirr, Esat BT believes the list of banned sites on which the filter is based should be operated by an independent third party rather than being proprietary to BT. In the UK, the IWF maintains a blacklist of sites containing child pornography material. The closest equivalent organisation in Ireland is the Internet Service Providers Association of Ireland (ISPAI). Although the ISPAI general manager Paul Durrant acknowledged the “good intentions” of BT UK’s system, he said that it would need to be modified before being used in Ireland. “It’s very worthy but we are concerned that this is the most appropriate way to achieve this,” he said.

The blacklist would have to differ from its UK counterpart in order to comply with Irish legislation, he said. Changes may also need to be made to the laws on the statute books in order to allow the list to be circulated to indigenous ISPs. Durrant added that there is an additional question of the resources available to manage and update a blacklist, as the ISPAI is a much smaller organisation than the IWF.

The ISPAI is already involved in tackling the issue of inappropriate content online. It runs the hotline.ie service in Ireland, which allows consumers to alert the authorities if they see paedophile material on the internet.

Durrant pointed out that more action would be needed than simply pointing users to an error page, as happens with BT’s Cleanfeed system. “If there is a block, it should come back to the user with a proper message saying ‘you have attempted to access a site listed as illegal, please report this to the hotline’,” he said. “If it just sends people down a black hole, for all people know it’s just an incorrect address.”

Durrant speculated that spam mail could be responsible for many users inadvertently clicking on unsuitable sites, but if this was simply blocked without making the user report the incident, there would be no way of knowing its origin. “We’re trying to remove this stuff from the internet, not simply act as if it’s not there,” he said.

Both McGirr and Durrant emphasised that the proposed Cleanfeed technology would not prevent dedicated paedophiles from accessing illegal content, as many of them are believed to use methods other than the web to circulate information. “It doesn’t claim to be a panacea but it’s a small step,” said McGirr. “If it stops a fraction of users getting access to this material then it will have done some good. It’s better than doing nothing.”

Esat BT, which operates the well known Ireland On-Line brand, is believed to be the first Irish ISP to address this issue with the industry’s representative association. The company already has a team working on the filtering system from a technical and regulatory standpoint. Esat BT officials are due to meet soon with the ISPAI to discuss the issue. The company is also understood to have taken informal soundings from some Government departments about its efforts.

However, the need to involve these and other stakeholders such as the Gardaí and parents’ groups means that an Irish launch date is some way off. “We had hoped for an early Autumn launch but that’s unlikely,” McGirr told siliconrepublic.com. “Hopefully it will be launched some time this year, but I wouldn’t put a month on it.”

By Gordon Smith