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[FYI] NEWSGROUPS - An Internet Watch Foundation discussion paper
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- Subject: [FYI] NEWSGROUPS - An Internet Watch Foundation discussion paper
- From: "Axel H Horns" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
- Date: Fri, 10 Nov 2000 16:26:14 +0100
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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 on
this paper by 31 January 2001.
WHAT IS THE CASE FOR REMOVING SELECTED NEWSGROUPS?
26. Three arguments could be advanced in favour of the IWF advising
ISPs to remove customer access to those few newsgroups known to
contain the overwhelming majority of the child pornography on Usenet
27. First, it is already accepted that there is a legal liability on
ISPs not knowingly to host child pornography. Now that it is known
which newsgroups regularly, even consistently, contain content that
it is illegal to possess, these groups should be dropped by ISPs.
28. For a variety of reasons, different ISPs already carry different
ranges of newsgroups and therefore already many ISPs are not carrying
the problematic groups. Furthermore newsgroup users have a wide range
of suppliers to provide links to newsgroups. Therefore all UK ISPs
should cease hosting those groups known to account for the most
frequent instances of child pornography.
29. BUT: Hosting such groups is not knowingly hosting child
pornography because ISPs remove illegal items when the existence of
such material is drawn to their attention. The majority of the items
in any given group is not illegal. Therefore there should be no need
to advise all UK ISPs not to carry these groups.
30. Second, the removal of a few selected newsgroups could - almost
literally overnight - reduce significantly the size of the newsgroup
31. For instance, the research from August 1999 would seem to
indicate that, if all ISPs ceased carrying the 'worst' three
newsgroups, over three-quarters of the illegal material reported to
the IWF would be removed. This would be a significant step in
combating child pornography on the UK Internet.
32. BUT: On the most favourable scenario - that is, assuming no
displacement of the illegal material to other newsgroups - a quarter
of the problematic material would still be available in other
newsgroups. At the moment, there seems no way to avoid that. This
approach begs the question of how many groups should not be carried
and how any particular figure would be justified.
33. Third, the absence of such newsgroups on UK servers could
substantially reduce the future costs of operation of the IWF and
allow more resources to be devoted to education and awareness, which
is increasingly recognised as the most effective way to protect
children from dangers on the Internet.
34. If such groups continue to be readily available from UK servers,
under its present policies the IWF will have to intensify its
reviewing of such groups in order to notify ISPs of illegal content
in them on a daily basis. This would require continued growth of
staff and expenditure to keep pace with the traffic, and a seven-day
operation. It will then be more difficult to allocate additional
resources to its education and awareness role.
35. BUT: In practice, the workload of the IWF would be unlikely to
change significantly for four reasons. Firstly, because the
problematic newsgroups continually change and the IWF would need to
continue monitoring the relevant groups to maintain up-to-date advice
to ISPs. Secondly, because about three-quarters of the reports made
to the IWF prove to be legal material and these reports would still
be made. Thirdly, because nearly a quarter of the illegal material
would not be in the removed groups. One estimate is that, at best,
the absence of the three 'worst' newsgroups from UK servers would
perhaps reduce the IWF workload by around one-fifth. Fourthly,
because a reduced hotline operation would probably threaten the
funding of the IWF since ISPs originally established the organisation
precisely to run such an operation.
WHAT IS THE CASE AGAINST SUCH REMOVAL OF NEWSGROUPS?
36. Five arguments can be put forward in opposition to the removal of
the relevant newsgroups.
37. First, any such removal simply would not work. Indeed it would be
counter-productive because it would simply lead to the posters of the
offending material migrating to other newsgroups.
38. The experience of newsgroup activity is that material will always
find a forum. If the original newsgroup is no longer available, a new
one will be found or created and we will be dealing with a constantly
39. There is already evidence of organised migration of material in
response to specific perceived threats of infiltration and sometimes
this migration is to another, totally innocent, newsgroup where it is
more likely to be accessed unwittingly by legitimate users of that
40. BUT: The fight against child pornography on the Internet will
never be over and, if material migrates, it will have to be tracked
down and removed from its new 'home'. The target may move, but it can
and should be followed.
41. Second, it is wrong for ISPs to remove newsgroups that have a
clear majority of perfectly legal content.
42. In any circumstances, the removal of newsgroups that contained
legal material would be a denial of free speech, but to do so when it
is known that the legal material is a very large proportion of the
total content raises serious civil liberty issues.
43. While it is possible for people to post in other newsgroups, such
postings would be "off-topic" and so against the Usenet culture. And,
of course, nothing stops the child pornographers following them. So
far the groups containing the material are "marginal", but they could
just as easily be "mainstream" and therefore more accessible to the
generality of readers.
44. BUT: There is a body of public opinion which puts a greater
emphasis on combating child pornography than on protecting free
expression and removal of the relevant newsgroups would be according
more weight to that viewpoint.
45. Third, the removal of selected newsgroups would give a false
sense of security regarding the scale of the problem and therefore
ultimately act to the detriment of efforts to combat child
46. At present, child pornography in newsgroups is confined to a very
small number of groups that are well known and carefully monitored.
If these groups are removed, the problem may well move to other, less
noticeable or predictable, locations that will be more difficult to
trace and deal with.
47. Since the IWF refers all potentially illegal content to the
police as well as ISPs, removing certain newsgroups could result in
fewer posters being identified and investigated that in turn might
lead to fewer prosecutions and convictions. This would make the task
of the police harder and could mean more children being abused.
48. BUT: Any apparent sense of security would have to be combated by
education and vigilance. It is not the 'visibility' of offenders or
the number of prosecutions that matter but the amount of material
that is accessible.
49. Fourth, the success of any measures to remove selected newsgroups
from UK servers would leave the material on servers in other
countries and people could simply download it from there.
50. The Internet and Usenet are global activities and the UK is
merely a part, and proportionately a small part, of them. Even if the
IWF had complete success in persuading all UK ISPs not to carry
certain newsgroups, the same material will reside on news servers all
around the world, including commercial servers in the USA.
51. UK users would be able to access these newsgroups from the UK,
simply by pointing their newsreader to download from these other
servers as well as, or instead of, the server of their own ISP.
Indeed, if a user wished to do so, it would be a relatively easy
matter technically to arrange an automatic reposting of the relevant
material from the non-UK host site to a UK newsgroup - the potential
for revenge attacks is obvious.
52. BUT: The concern of the IWF is the content of the UK Internet and
the conduct of UK ISPs in this context. If a change of policy in
relation to certain newsgroups left the material outside the UK but
still accessible from it, the IWF would have done all that it
reasonably could to address the problem. If the same material was
available to UK readers at locations outside the UK, that would not
be the responsibility of the IWF, although the IWF could campaign
vigorously in all appropriate non-UK and international forums to
persuade others to follow a similar line. We should stake out our
position as best we can and urge others to follow.
53. Fifth, if certain newsgroups are to be removed from UK servers,
there is the difficult question of deciding which groups should be
54. It has been explained that a small number of newsgroups account
for a large proportion of the child pornography identified by the IWF
but that, in the case of such newsgroups, the illegal material is
normally a small minority of the total content of the group.
Therefore, if the IWF was to target certain newsgroups for potential
removal, the organisation would have to operate some sort of
criteria, such as a certain percentage of illegal content compared to
legal content. Any such criteria would be inherently subjective and
55. If the material migrates to other newsgroups, then the whole
question would have to be addressed again and again. Furthermore
consideration would have to be given to whether the removal of
certain groups was a temporary or permanent matter or whether it
would be appropriate to consider periodically the question of
56. BUT: It might be that a small number of newsgroups represent such
a large proportion of the illegal material that these groups are in
effect self-selecting. Alternatively, if the IWF does change its
policy and decide to target certain groups, it could hold a separate
consultative exercise on how to select such groups. One could specify
a certain percentage of illegal content or a certain number of
illegal articles or some combination of these two criteria.
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