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[FYI] (Fwd) Newsgroup Censorship Debate, please contribute to.
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- Subject: [FYI] (Fwd) Newsgroup Censorship Debate, please contribute to.
- From: "Axel H Horns" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
- Date: Sat, 11 Nov 2000 11:47:44 +0100
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Date sent: Sat, 11 Nov 2000 03:33:32 +0000
From: Dave Bird <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: (slightly off topic) Newsgroup Censorship Debate, please contribute to.
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TO: Cyber rights list, CC'ed some other lists.
There is currently a proposal for further newsgroup censorship being
debated on uk.politics.censorship / uk.net.
'' SINCE August'96, there has been a sustained attack against free
speech on the 'Net in this Britain. It began with <a
href="http://babylon.ivision.co.uk/media/misc/theMet"> the "French"
letter</a>, from Det. Supt. French, threatening ISPs if they did not
remove a whole series of newsgroups -- a lot of them, like
alt.homosexuality, text newsgroups about lawful activities. When
Demon Internet released the letter instead of complying, there
appeared newspaper articles highly defamatory of a Demon director and
of Julf Helsingius (from firstname.lastname@example.org); both said they would sue the
Observer newspaper. A reporting system called 'Safety Net' was
instituted for unlawful material on the 'Net. ''
These dodgy goings on later renamed themselves the Internet Watch
Foundation. Because it is absolutely illegal to possess child
pornography [it is only illegal to trade in most other banned speech],
this body reports any individual such articles it finds to the ISP,
and the ISP then usually does cancel the article. The IWF has at
times threatened to metastasize into other areas such as extreme
political opinion, so-called "hate speech".
Currently its idea is that 3/4 of the individual articles it
bans would be covered by outright removal in Britain of 28 newsgroups
which contain 10% illegal material, or 1/2 of it by removal of just
three groups which contain 40% illegal material. None of the groups
concerned contain a clear majority of illegal material.
Superficially, and especially to people with no clue how things work,
it would be an obvious economy of effort. Of course there are reasons
why it might not work e.g. the material might spread abroad or to
other newsgroups, or why it might be no help if it did e.g. it would
actually lead to less offenders caught or it may cost just as much to
chase the remaining half Quite apart from it being a bad step in
principle to ban channels which none of them contain a majority of
illegal material. I don't think it is by any means an obvious or
clear-cut issue, though on balance the arguments why it would be both
ineffective and wrong in principle stack up for me. I'm glad IWF have
bothered to consult on uk.net, and I hope people will take the
opportunity to make thoughtful comment.
This really needs to be addressed by people who can write good
reasoned rebuttals such as Yaman and Avedon, and really by anyone who
can make effective points. Please subscribe uk.politics.censorship
back to say 00:01 Thursday and pitch in to the relevant threads.
== Newsgroups: uk.net,uk.politics.censorship,alt.censorship Subject:
IWF Newsgroup discussion PtONE [newsgroups, issues, figures] Date:
Fri, 10 Nov 2000 02:54:29 +0000 : In
article<email@example.com>, Chucky writes: >On
Thu, 9 Nov 2000, Dave Bird <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote: >>In
article<Xrpn$fCPRsC6Ewhf@xemu.demon.co.uk>, Dave Bird writes: >>>In
article<avogjOCs6mC6Ewgf@romana.davros.org>, Clive D.W. Feather: >>>>
>>>>[Rather than having discussion wandering all over Usenet, please
could >>>>it be kept to one newsgroup ? The UK Committee's (very weak)
view is >>>>that uk.net is probably the best place, so I have set
followups there. >>>>Please feel free to mention this topic in other
groups, but direct >>>>followups here rather than splitting the
discussion. I will monitor this >>>>thread in uk.net to provide input
to the IWF board, but I won't >>>>necessarily see threads elsewhere.]
>>> >>> I would prefer to keep the discussion ALSO in the censorship
>>> newsgroups; >>>I note that points may not be forwarded to i.w.f.
>>> unless uk.net is on the newsgroups line. >> >> I AM POSTING THE
DISCUSSION PAPER ITSELF (LONG) >> in case people want to cite from it
in usual usenet style. > >Thank you.
>>An Internet Watch Foundation discussion paper
>>1. This discussion paper:
>>++explains what newsgroups are and how they operate
>>++explains the current role and policy of
>> the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) in relation to newsgroups
>>++sets out the arguments in favour of a change of IWF policy
>>++sets out the arguments against a change in the policy
>>++invites interested organisations and individuals to submit views
>> this paper by 31 January 2001.
>> I. WHAT ARE NEWSGROUPS?
>>2. The Internet has a number of different elements, perhaps the
>>best- known being e-mail and the World Wide Web. A lesser known but
>>very popular component is newsgroups.
>>3. The name is somewhat misleading, since groups are often concerned
>>more with views than news and the range of groups is immense. In
>>effect, these are text-based, global electronic notice boards where
>>users post material - usually text, but there are mechanisms for
>>including pictures or other material - that can be accessed by all
>>other readers of that newsgroup. In the context of the Internet, the
>>term Usenet newsgroups is often used because of the technical
>>network which sustains these groups.
"The name is an arbitrary one; conversations held by NEWS
distribution are sent to a set of general notice-boards open to
anyone interested, as opposed to conversations held by MAIL
distribution which are sent to a few named recipients."
>>4. Some groups are one-way affairs, used simply for making
>>announcements, but most are interactive, allowing any user to
>>comment on any content. Some are primarily for exchanging files
>>(such as images or software), but most are for sharing views and
>>comments. A few are moderated, which means that someone checks the
>>content before or after the posting appears publicly, but most are
>>totally uncontrolled. One author - Jim McClellan in "The Guardian
>>Guide To The Internet" - has suggested: "Another way to get your
>>head round Usenet might be to think of it as a virtual equivalent of
>>Speaker's Corner in London. It's similarly rowdy and anarchic".
>>5. Copies of articles sit on every news server that carries that
>>group, although articles do not appear on all news servers at the
>>exactly same time. Given the global nature of the Internet, usually
>>this means that there are copies of any given article around the
>>world. Current estimates are that there are several hundred thousand
>>6. While most people use the server supplied by their Internet
>>service provider (ISP), there are commercial servers - both inside
>>and outside the UK - that will provide newsgroups to anybody.
>>Accessing newsgroups is a simple matter - certainly easier than
>>putting up a web page. You simply need a piece of software called a
>>"newsreader", either the one bundled with your browser - such as
>>Microsoft's Outlook Express or Netscape Communicator's Collabra - or
>>one downloaded from the Internet or obtained from a CD-ROM.
>>7. Usually you gain access to a newsgroup and its contents simply by
>>telling your newsreader to check out that group for new postings or
>>by sending your own posting.
>>8. Usenet was created in 1979 by some American computer science
>>graduates. The number of groups and the number of postings to them
>>has grown enormously as the number of Internet users has grown,
>>although there are no accurate statistics for this growth process.
>>Today there are over 30,000 newsgroups in existence world-wide.
>>9. Each newsgroup usually specialises on a particular subject matter
>>or a particular group of users. However, any posting can be sent to
>>any newsgroup or newsgroups that the author wishes, so that it is
>>not possible to ensure that everything within a group is relevant to
>>that group. Discussions are kept 'on topic' by consensus, by peer
>>pressure, and in some instances by ISPs taking action against
>>authors who blatantly post 'off topic'.
>>10. The overwhelming majority of these newsgroups provide a
>Who says what is 'legitimate'?
'a forum which most people would consider legitimate'
>>for discussion of a whole variety of subjects of great interest to
>>their users and newsgroups are a vital part of the open, democratic
>>and interactive nature of the Internet.
>>11. There are a lot of newsgroups focusing on sex in all its
>>manifestations and variations. Sometimes the name of the newsgroup
>>is an indication of the sexual nature of its content, but this is
>>certainly not always the case. Equally a sexual newsgroup title may
>>not necessarily indicate sexual content - groups can lie dormant or
>>be full of spam (the electronic equivalent of junk mail).
>>Furthermore a title that does indicate sexual content may cover
>>serious discussion (for instance, abuse issues) rather than erotica.
>Isn't erotica 'serious'?
I think on reflection he means 'factual'.
"A sexual title may not necessary indicate banned erotic material.
The group may contain nothing i.e. it may be dormant of full of spam
(...). It may be a factual discussion about the difficulties of a
particular group (abuse victims, homosexuals), it may be seeking
contact between consenting adults of the same preference, it may be
stories told for entertainment, or it may be pictures shown for
entertainment: most likely ones which are lawful in print."
>>12. Not all Internet service providers carry all newsgroups; indeed
>>some ISPs carry none at all. A particular ISP may choose to limit
>>the range of newsgroups that it carries, or may attempt to carry as
>>broad a set as possible, for technical, language, marketing,
>>commercial or other reasons. In any event, ISPs only hold articles
>>for a limited period - typically a few days - before they are
>>expired in the interests of disc space (although there are some
>> II. WHAT ARE THE ISSUES?
>> >>13. For several years, there has been deep concern - especially
among >>the police and children's organisations - that a small
proportion of >>articles, mostly in a small number of newsgroups,
often feature child >>pornography. In the UK, simple possession of
child pornography is a >>criminal offence and it is important that the
law is enforced and seen >>to be enforced. We need to remember that
the production of child >>pornography is usually the result of the
abuse of a child. > >But most is not, unless you include the 'abuse'
inflicted by >well-meaning therapists. (Even simple nudity can be
prosecuted; or >vaguely defined lasciviousness.) > >>14. The
publication in August 1996 of a Metropolitan Police list of
>>newsgroups believed to contain illegal content led UK Internet
service >>providers (ISPs) to create the Internet Watch Foundation
(IWF) in >>September 1996. > >The list included
news:alt.binaries.pictures.children whose regulars >then (as now)
would be most shocked at the suggestion of mere nudity, >even.
And alt.homosexual which I understand is just a text discussion among
homosexual people about any relevant issue e.g. where to get sexual
health information, which are the best night-clubs, what are the
latest gay fashions.
The whole business of the "French Letter" from Inspector French
was a disgraceful one which smacked more of the Cray Brothers
than policing. But I don't suppose we'll get an accurate
account from the IWF.
>>15. The establishment of the IWF provides a mechanism - essentially
>>a hotline - whereby users can report material that they believe to
>>be illegal. This material can then be examined by trained staff and,
>>in the event that the material is indeed judged to be potentially
>>illegal, steps can be taken to remove it.
>The 'trained staff' presumably aren't 'judges', never mind 'jury'.
They can probably work out what is or isn't a very young child
having sex or in a 'pin-up' pose as if about to have sex, though. >
>>16. In the case of material hosted by a UK ISP, the ISP is advised
to >>remove the material and - to the best of our knowledge - this
advice has >>been consistently and promptly acted upon. > >How are
they 'leant on'?
Because if they ignored the warning (without good grounds) they could
be raided and prosecuted.
>(Binary articles usually expire in a couple of days from the server,
>anyway. So why bother?)
With short expiry, people usually get the material they want. The
object is presumably to stop circulation of this material.
>>Since the creation of the
>>IWF, over 23,000 items have been removed as a result of this
>>process. The great majority of these items was child pornography and
>>most of the remainder was other sexual material deemed to be
>In other words, pissing and consential sm?
>What a word, 'deemed'. Judge and jury again.
'deemed by current English law to be illegal'
The law may be stupid, but they didn't make it.
>>17. The significant issue here is one of "knowledge". If someone is
>>unaware of illegal material, they are doing no wrong. On the other
>>hand, should they be aware of it and do nothing, they are committing
>>a criminal offence. The police currently take the view that ISPs
>>only "know" about specific postings that they are told about -
>>either by the IWF or anyone else. Provided that the ISP acts
>>promptly to remove these items, they will not be prosecuted for what
>>otherwise could be illegal possession (and so far no UK ISP has been
>>prosecuted in this way).
>"Where ignorance is bliss, 'tis folly to be wise", in other words. :)
>>18. The debate in 1996 centred around two questions. The first was
>>whether ISPs must actively look for illegal material, or whether
>>they need only worry about what they happen to discover by accident.
>>The second was whether the fact that illegal material could often be
>>found in a given newsgroup meant that ISPs needed to do something
>>about the group itself.
>>19. The original Metropolitan Police list of August 1996 identified
>>133 newsgroups which, in the opinion of the author of the list,
>>contained illegal or problematic material.
>What a dreadful, fuzzy word is 'problematic'.
Indeed, but I don't think the words need altering as they are only
reporting the opinion of the fuckwit French.
>>As a result of incoming reports and its
>>own proactive monitoring, the IWF has compiled its own list of
>>newsgroups. The composition of the list changes over time and the
>>IWF periodically informs ISPs of the current situation.
~~ III. WHAT ARE THE FACTS AND FIGURES (new Chapter Heading)
~~ The whole of the presentation of the numbers in this section is
very unclear and wants sorting out, see comments which follow this
section ((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((( >> >>20.
The latest programme of monitoring by the IWF - completed in July
>>2000 - has identified 28 newsgroups as frequently containing child
>>pornographic material. However, research by the IWF in August 1999
>>indicated that some 77% of the illegal material reported to the
>>organisation had been found in just three groups. This finding -
that a >>tiny number of newsgroups contain an overwhelming proportion
of the >>illegal material - has been confirmed by the experience of
other >>hotlines in other countries and by the research of the COPINE
Project of >>the University of Cork. >> >>21. In a report dated
January 1998, the COPINE Project stated that "the >>percentage of the
total number of Usenet newsgroups that contain child >>erotica and
pornography amounts to 0.07% of the total number of
>>newsgroups". The most recent monitoring by the IWF has revealed a
>>22. In addition to illegal material being concentrated in a very
>>small number of newsgroups, it is necessary to appreciate that the
>>illegal material is itself a small percentage of the total content
>>of these particular newsgroups.
>>23. An earlier analysis by one of the ISPs that hosts almost all
>>newsgroups found that, on the basis of examination of reports over a
>>two-year period to April 1999, the reported illegal content in the
>>three 'worst' groups was less than 2% of the total traffic. However,
>>in this context it should be borne in mind that this figure was
>>based on notifications from IWF in response solely to incoming
>>reports from the public,
>Who is this 'public', who so assiduously frequents childporn groups?
[For these purposes I don't think it really matters]
>>rather than on a comprehensive and consistent monitoring of all
>>postings to these groups.
>>24. Recent experience has shown that the average proportion of
>>potentially illegal content within the groups currently being
>>monitored by IWF is some 10-15%, representing 1,676 items out of
>>14,836 articles posted and reviewed within a one week period. The
>>average in the three 'worst' groups was nearly 45% which represents
>>some 717 items out of a total of just over1,800.
It would be clearer to say something as follows:
Over a one week period the IWF summarised how may complaints
it received, which of these articles complained about seemed
very likely to be illegal under current British law -- and how
such valid complaints distributed across newsgroups.
14,400 complaints were received.
6,400 complaints were considered valid and 8,000 invalid. (?)
That should be compared with 50,000 total newsgroups which
carry 1,000,000 articles with a volume of 20,00,000 KBytes.
Valid complaints comprised 6,400 articles (0.064% total articles) or
640,000 KB estimated volume (0.77% of total volume). This divided up
** "All sorts of assorted newsgroups"
carried 4,800 such articles (0.48% of total articles)
or 48,000 KBytes of volume (0.66% of volume).
** 25 "fairly bad" newsgroups (0.550% of total newsgroups)
carrying up to 10% such material, carried 1600 such articles
(.... of total articles) or ....... KBytes of volume
(.... of total volume).
** 3 "very bad" newgroups (0.06% of total newsgroups)
carrying up to 40% such material, carried 700 such articles
(.... of total articles) or ....... KBytes of volume
(.... of total volume).
OR WHATEVER. YOUR STATISTICS ARE NON-UNIFORM AND CONFUSING!
There are several numerical observations we can make from
this, and tentative conclusions to be drawn on them.
First, the valid complaints are a very tiny part of news over-all.
This may be argued a number of ways. Some people may say that
"therefore they are a flea-bite which the over-all community would
barely miss"; BUT this may not necessarily be so, as it is a radical
and well-organised community with strong objections to precedents
such as the banning of whole newsgroups by name. Conversely the fact
they are a very small part of over-all traffic may be used to argue
that any damage you do to UseNet as a whole because of them is, in
the sense of the human rights act, "disproportionate". Remember, you
cannot inconvenience and restrict people indefinitely by saying that
some crimes are really terrible... you must show that your
restrictions are the minimum NECESSARY to fight that harm.
Secondly, we can see from the above what percentage and actual
numbers of the material validly complained about would be
caught by a ban set at 10% illegal content, 40% illegal
content, or majority illegal content. Be aware that people
may argue that, whatever else they are doing, if a channel
is not in the majority used for exchange of illegal material
then it can hardly be held that this is the purpose of the channel.
>>25. Having set out the technical and historical background and
>>provided some relevant data, the remainder of this paper presents
>>the main arguments for and against a change in current IWF policy on
>>newsgroups. In the case of each argument for and against, in the
>>interests of balance, a counter-argument is presented. Of course,
>>these are not necessarily the only arguments or responses, but they
>>are presented in an effort to stimulate an informed and balanced
>>IV. WHAT IS THE CASE FOR REMOVING SELECTED NEWSGROUPS?
_______________________fuses? I thought you bought the fuses!
¬¬ .. ''
" '' **
Don't be left in the dark--http://www.xemu.demon.co.uk/censor/
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