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Access Blocking of Child Abusive Material: Evaluation of the Swedish Practice

Paper i proceeding
Författare Marie Eneman
Publicerad i Conference Proceedings of the 4th International Symposium on Children at Risk and in Need of Protection
Publiceringsår 2012
Publicerad vid Institutionen för tillämpad informationsteknologi (GU)
Språk en
Ämneskategorier Samhällsvetenskap, Straffrätt, Barn, Teknik och social förändring


The distribution of child abusive material through information technology (IT) constitutes a serious and growing challenge for law enforcement agencies, due to technological innovations. The same technology can however also be used as powerful disciplinary tools to regulate, police and prevent criminal behaviour. One topical example where technology is used to control users behaviour can be found in Internet service providers’ (ISPs) implementation of filtering systems to prevent and block access to child abusive material. In recent years a number of national law enforcement agencies have developed cooperation with the Internet industry to tackle, more effectively, the distribution of child abusive material by combining legal and technological regulation models. The number of ISPs introducing filtering systems is growing and it is expected that this trend will grow even more in the near future. COSPOL Internet Related Child Abusive Material Project (CIRCAMP), a European Commission-funded network of law enforcement agencies across Europe including Europol and Interpol, has formulated the following four primary aims of ISPs’ domain-based filtering of pre-identified websites containing child abusive material to: (i) prevent the re-victimization of children; (ii) prevent the illegal distribution of material and the files; (iii) prevent the illegal display of abuse material and reduce the harm to the general population while informing the public of the extent of the problem; and (iv) prevent access to child abuse material and thus limiting the ‘‘market’’, reducing the need for new production. A number of countries are currently members of the CIRCAMP network. The filtering approaches differ somewhat, however, between the countries. In Sweden the practice is based upon voluntarily cooperation between the police and ISPs, where filtering technology is used to block access to pre-identified websites at domain level. The IT Crime Section at the Swedish National Criminal Police is responsible for and compiles the list used by the ISPs. The compiled list of domains is based on Swedish national legislation regarding child pornography. When a user is trying to access a website that has been blacklisted the user is directed automatically to a so-called ‘‘stop page’’. The displayed stop page contains information that the requested website is blocked due to illegal content and informs the user how to submit complaints about the specific websites blocked. All complaints are directed to the IT Crime Section at the Swedish National Criminal Police and will lead to the domain being re-investigated. Designing regulation is a complex issue, not without certain problems and critics. Although most people would agree that child abusive material should be regulated through legislation, critical voices have been raised about technological regulation attempts such as ISP filtering systems. One of the main arguments in the debate regarding this controversial issue is that Internet filtering is a form of censorship associated primarily with oppressive regimes, for example Saudi Arabia and Iran, and constitutes a threat to important civil liberties such as freedom of expression and privacy. Freedom of expression and privacy have been in the focus of the civil liberties and technology debate for more than a century. One could, however, argue that they should not be considered as absolute rights and that an acceptable balance has to be found between different rights, such as the right of the child not to be sexually exploited or abused. Even though a number of academic studies are available about Internet filtering little academic research exists in relation to ISP filtering of websites containing child abusive material. A critique often used in the debate about Internet filtering is that filtering mechanisms suffer from overblocking, i.e. they block access to more content than they should. This argument is used commonly in the debate about ISP filtering of child abusive material. This paper will present the result from a recent analysis of the Swedish blocking list and its wider practice. The author has conducted an analysis of the Swedish blocking list in relation to current Swedish legal definition of child pornography to evaluate whether the list suffers from either underblocking and/or overblocking and discusses the current practice. In addition interviews have been conducted with actors within the Swedish law enforcement and from Swedish Internet Industry. This paper contributes to the debate of this topical issue, and thereby aims to support policy developments in relation to technological regulation of child abusive material.

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