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March 29, 2011

Irish Net Blocking by the Back Door

At the SceneWHEN I SPOTTED ordinary decent gurriers ransacking our local building site (see right), I expected the police response to be appropriate and effective. When I watch the Paedophile Investigation Unit of An Garda Siochana do its business, I expect the same kind of effective response. However, if the letter sent to Irish ISPs is any indication, that's not going to happen. In the document, leaked to Digital Rights Ireland, guards want the ISPs to block domain addresses when they suspect something illegal is happening. This kind of a step normally requires legislation, public consultation or democratic discussion. But if you give the official letter proper standing, you have to assume internet filtering in Ireland has moved to the implementation stage. And while this blocking attempt tries to stop access to child pornography past track records suggest it won't be effective.

If you run your own web site or live behind a proxy server, you probably know ways to work around blocking procedures. Moreover, prosecution documents show that the vast bulk of child porn imagery comes from peer to peer filesharing or archives emerging from newsgroups. That's been the Dutch experience too. The Dutch have abandoned “ineffective” web blocking.

As Digital Rights Ireland points out, "Blocking is a distraction from what should be the main focus of policing--removing material at source and identifying those responsible. Work in Germany has shown that blocking leaves material available indefinitely, when it could easily be taken down by contacting the hosting providers.

In my experience, trying to block one directory or restricting access to a subdomain of a web server often knocks the whole domain out of view. As Digital Rights Ireland shows, this "has already happened to O2 users who found the entire image hosting site IMGUR blocked due to a similar system operated by O2."

I'm concerned by this blocking initiative and so I'm contacting Pat Rabbitte, the Irish Minister for Communications and Alan Shatter, the Minister for Justice and Law Reform in Ireland.

Link to Garda correspondence.

Digital Rights Ireland -- "Garda plans to introduce web blocking", March 29, 2011.

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