Dear Dr Fox,
I write to you to share my concerns about a government- and EU-endorsed charity called the "Internet Watch Foundation" (IWF), who are apparently tasked with blocking access to "objectionable" material found on the internet. If they add something to their list, roughly 95% of UK home internet users are unable to access it.
As you may have heard, the IWF recently added a Wikipedia pages to their list because it contained the cover of the 1976 Scorpions album "Virgin Killer", depicting a naked young girl with a shatter effect covering her genitals. According to their own press releases, the image was deemed obscene by their internal processes, and thus the URL of the image and the encyclopaedia article it featured in were added to the block list, which was then disseminated to the internet service providers.
I have no problem with filtering of actual child abuse images, but this particular image has not been declared illegal anywhere in either Europe or America - in fact, it was reported to the FBI in May this year, and the FBI decided there was no cause for any action to be taken. More to the point, not only was the image blocked (although in a grossly inept way), the article about the album was also blocked. Moreover, the image is still available from several hundred websites including Google, Amazon (US), and of course any good high street music retailer.
The main issue that worries me here is that the IWF is accountable to no one - there is absolutely no transparency in the system. It's only because of the way Wikipedia is set up that anyone even noticed. I find such surreptitious actions to be disturbing, especially as anyone who tries to access the pages blocked does not receive a "this content has been blocked" message, but a simple browser message.
I would like to hope that there is something which can be done about this - no organisation which is not answerable to the people should have power over the people.
I look forward to your response and opinions on this matter.
Yeah, this is more about the whole Wikipedia/Internet Watch Foundation furore - it's now achieving mainstream media attention, with items on BBC Radio 4's The Today Programme, Channel 4 News, and there was an item in The Guardian as well today. For a more complete list, see Wikipedia's noticeboard page. I'm hopeful that the decision will be overturned, since general opinion seems to be against the IWF, and pro-Wikipedia. We can always hope. Interesting fact though. Before it was blocked, the album page was getting around 600 hits per day. Yesterday (7th) it got almost 130,000. Today it achieved 370,000. Go the Streisand Effect.