In association with heise online

08 December 2008, 09:31

Wikipedia blocks UK ISP censorship filters

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Over the last few days, many UK users have been unable to access Wikipedia. A number of UK ISPs use a transparent proxy to filter content identified by the Internet Watch Foundation as containing child pornography. This system is called Cleanfeed and has been running since June 2004.

In this case, it is believed an image on Wikipedia, from a Scorpions album, caused the IWF to add a specific URL and Wikipedia's IP addresses to their blocking list. Requests to Wikipedia's IP addresses were then passed to the content filtering proxy, in theory blocking access to the specific URLS.

But this had another, probably unintended, consequence. Wikipedia access from the UK from ISPs who used the Cleanfeed filtering system now appeared to be coming from one of small number of IP addresses, the IP addresses of the transparent proxies themselves. As Wikipedia blocks vandalism by blocking IP addresses, these IP addresses were blocked from editing.

Then the problem was amplified by some ISPs who run Cleanfeed advertising routes to Wikipedia to other ISPs who do not run Cleanfeed, pulling in their traffic to Wikipedia and running it through the Cleanfeed system; because these ISPs are not configured to use Cleanfeed, users appeared to be completely cut off from any Wikipedia access. ISPs who become aware of this hijacking of their traffic have been deleting the bogus routes, restoring access to their users.

The situation is being documented by Wikipedia in an evolving article.

"The IWF didn't just block the image; it blocked access to the article itself, which discusses the image in a neutral, encyclopedic fashion,” said Sue Gardner, Executive Director of the Wikimedia Foundation. “The IWF says its goal is to protect UK citizens, but I can't see how this action helps to achieve that – and meanwhile, it deprives UK internet users of the ability to access information that should be freely available to everyone. I urge the IWF to remove Wikipedia from its blacklist."

The IWF has made a statement saying "the image was assessed according to the UK Sentencing Guidelines Council (page 109). The content was considered to be a potentially illegal, indecent image of a child under the age of 18, but hosted outside the UK."

The IWF is an independent self regulation group, incorporated as a charity which works with the government and is funded by numerous ISPs, other interested parties and by the EU.


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