Why the web censorship in Finland is a bad idea

By Joel Yliluoma, March 4th, 2008

Today, 4th March 2008, there was a demonstration against Internet censorship in Helsinki, Finland.

The protesters complained about the censorship implemented by the police, as it does absolutely nothing to help the children victims who are instead being used as dubious political levers.

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Problems with the current censorship

Other problems include:
  1. The censorship is in violation of the constitutional law of Finland (section 12).
  2. The censorship "flushes the child with the dish water", i.e. for every alleged child porn page it blocks thousands of completely unrelated pages and sites happening to share the same DNS address.
  3. Children are not likely to stumble across child pornography. Adult pornography is prevalent, but this law does not address that.
  4. The censorship system does not stop those who actually intend to watch child pornography. It is trivial to circumvent.
  5. The censorship does not help the actual children who are being used by porn industry. It only addresses the child audience who are not likely to stumble upon those pictures anyway, and are not in need of "protection" by censorship.
  6. Sites are being blocked without chance of being heard and tried. No jury, no trial.
  7. No means are provided to inform site authors that their site is being blocked.
  8. No means are provided to let a site be unblocked.
  9. If you are wrongly blocked and you lose revenue / reputation because of that, no compensation whatsoever is given when/if you are unblocked. You may be publicly marked as a child pornography distributor, even if you are completely innocent, and nobody is going to apologize to you.
  10. Real child pornography distributors (i.e. criminals) are not affected either; they switch & register new domains all the time, and such a filter cannot keep up to date.
  11. Not to mention that web is not the only media in Internet used to transfer illegal material. But unfortunately, for the law makers, web = Microsoft Internet Explorer. And for the police, "Google is a browser, not a site". (Actual quote). This reflects the level of their understanding of the issues they are trying to change.
  12. Once censorship exists, different agencies are eager to lobby the use of the censorship for their own purposes. For example, music industries would want The Pirate Bay censored. Scientologists would want critics of Scientology to be censored. Some members of Parliament want Internet Poker sites to be censored. And so on. This method is not compatible with the concept of unconditional freedom of communication guaranteed by the Finnish constitution.
  13. The applier of the censorship, NBI, has created their own interpretations of the law, in violation to the law's content and spirit, and obviously without understanding of the technology and the implications.
  14. The censorship list is secret, and maintained by an unnamed official. As such, nobody can know what they're censoring, and nobody can verify whether they're staying within legal limits. (Well, we can, thanks to technology and clever activists; not thanks to the law. And we now know that they're not staying within legal limits.)

Why do I care?

Because especially points 2, 6, 8, 9 and 12 are in strong opposition to my sense of justice. I am an author at the Internet (as in, I create copyrighted material such as this article), and as such, I can strongly relate to people who are in similar positions: people whose fundamental rights are threatened by this dysfunctional system.

I'll elaborate on these particular points.

What about the children?

The censorship system does nothing to help the children. It merely attempts to hide the fact that children are abused. Closing your eyes from a crime does not remove the crime.

To help the children victims, the police officials should concentrate their efforts to cooperate with police officials in those countries where the actual children are being abused.

If any of these steps goes out of the range of local juristiction, pass the work to the officials in that country where they can do something. For example, if the site is hosted in the USA, contact the FBI and tell them the address.

What about the children who use Internet?

Children are not likely to stumble upon child pornography in particular (considering that CP tends to be somewhat underground to hide from law enforcement), and are thus not in need of "protection" from pictures by censorship.

Adult pornography is prevalent (it is advertised in many dubious ways), but that's not what this censorship system is about.

And since when is it up to technology to teach children what is right and what is wrong? Is that not the parents' job?
In the same manner as parents should control what the children can watch from TV and what they can not, they should also do about Internet.

What about the pædophiles?

The censorship system does not block access by anyone determined to find out what the site contains. It can be easily circumvented. As explained by Matti Nikki (in Finnish), complete censorship in Internet is impossible. There are a myriad of different ways to transmit information, and a majority of them are completely unknown to the people who design these blocking systems. For the rest, it is not practical to try blocking them.

In any case, the current criminal law in Finland already prohibits

These together are enough to outlaw any activity related to the handling of child pornography. No legislation can make illegal more illegal.

What is the talk about political leverage?

The term child pornography has gained strong power in the media. After all, the majority of voters are also parents.

Simply put, if your arguments follow the formula "_____ because child pornography", the media, and the mass, will support you, no matter how bogus your claim is.

The parliament utilized this aspect just before the next election to ensure their good public image – that they are actually doing something important.

However, because using the term child pornography is an efficient way to justify some action, it conversely follows that objecting to that action flags you publicly as a supporter of child pornography, or a pædophile. Nobody wants to have that kind of image. Or as representative Jyrki Kasvi puts it, the half-life of the popularity [of a politician who objects to a law advocated with child pornography] is really short. So it is really easy to manipulate people towards some goal by using child pornography as a leverage.

The goal of the leverage, was to improve the face of the Parliament in the eyes of the population.

But there was another goal, as well: censorship is a powerful tool, and a powerful weapon. There are many parties who would enjoy being able to control such a weapon. In particular, the media industry (Teosto, Gramex, IFPI (ÄKT)). They have been lobbying for a long time, pushing the Parliament to create legislation that supports their own goals better, such as prohibition of communication of means to circumvent copy protection (also in violation of the Constitution of Finland). It does not take much to guess that their next goal would be to censor foreign (and native) sites that help spreading copyrighted material for free. Such as The Pirate Bay.

In short, children, who were supposed to be helped, were merely used as political leverage to support completely unrelated goals that do absolutely nothing to help those children.

What about their arguments?

Most of the their arguments are based on fallacies: appeal to authority, appeal to tradition, appeal to fear, appeal to emotion, etc.

But Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Netherlands, etc. too!

Finland is Finland. Yes, our Parliament has a trend of copying legislation from other countries, but just because idiots are idiots, doesn't mean we should be too. (No offense meant to our neighbours!)

We have pointed out flaws and serious problems with the censorship, and referring to other countries will not invalidate those problems.

It was the previous Parliament, not us!

Who cares? Hurry up, remove it.

But they accepted it unanimously!

That's because coming forth and objecting to a law advocated with child pornography would have been a political suicide. As already explained on this page, there are serious problems with this system and nothing aside from dismantling it alltogether will fix it.

But think of the children!

See above.

We're already improving it, and the next one will target subpages instead of the whole domain!

The whole censorship system should be dismantled. It was a bad idea from the beginning. Changing it to be more precise will not fix the remainder of its inherent problems, listed above.

But by blocking the access to CP we attack the profit chain of CP, and thus, CP will cease to exist as it's no longer profitable!

No you don't. Your censorship leaks like mad, and there's nothing you can do to fix it (as explained above), except from dismantling it alltogether.

(And, some, perhaps most, people do not do it for profit. The word "philia" (φιλία) in "pedophilia" comes from the fact that they love it.)

But isn't something better than nothing?!

Not when that something does more harm than it does good, especially as the amount of good it does is indistinguishable from zero. And did you forget, the system is in violation of the Constitutional law of Finland?

And don't even think of changing the Constitution. Then it would begin to sound like Orwell's 1984.

Freedom of speech does not protect child pornography!

Although the Constitution guarantees the right to communication without prior prevention by anyone, it is indeed correct to stipulate that such freedom does not extend to performing crimes: distributing child pornography is prohibited by the crime law, chapter 17, section 18.

The filter, however, censors many webpages that have nothing to do with child pornography, which is a violation of freedom of speech. For example, Matti Nikki's website that criticises the censorship system, was censored in direct violation of the Constitutional law. That site does not contain or distribute child pornography.

Last edited at: 2008-03-05T19:58:54+02:00