"YPRT - Youth Protection Roundtable" was a project of the Digital Opportunities Foundation in 2006 - 2009.
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Public Papers

Who keeps the gate?

To read this article in German language, please refer here.

The CIRCAMP project, short for COSPOL1 Internet related Child Abusive Material Project has chosen its wording carefully. Instead of the more common word 'child pornography' they use the term 'child sexual abuse material' or 'child abusive material' thus emphasising the various ugly faces of maltreatment of children.

As a targeted project CIRCAMP is funded within the Safer Internet Programme with the purpose to enhance law enforcement agencies' analysis of illegal material. CIRCAMP has developed the CSAADF - Child Sexual Abuse Anti Distribution Filter by initiation of Norway in the year 2004. Thirteen countries - Norway, UK, Denmark, Belgium, France, Finland, Ireland, Italy, Malta, Poland, Sweden, Netherlands and Spain are organised in the CIRCAMP project, operated by Norway, eight of them (N, S, DK, Fi, Nl, CH, Nz, I) make use of the CSAADF to block websites.

In participating countries, police services receive complaints from the public through hotlines in relation to websites displaying child sexual abuse material. Based on these complaints and investigations, a list of websites containing child abuse material is provided to participating Internet Service Providers by National Police Services. The domain based filtering leads to displaying a STOP page on the computer or mobile device of an Internet user accessing a web site with child abuse content. The system is perceived as a preventive measure not aimed at initiating an investigation against the user, nor to replace traditional investigations into child sexual abuse on the Internet.

Europol describes the following primary aims of the filtering:

  • To prevent the re-victimisation of those children who are or have been the victim of abuse
  • To prevent accidental access to this illegal and harmful content by the public
  • To prevent deliberate access to child abuse material on the Internet
  • To reduce the customer base of these illegal websites with the assistance of participating Internet Service Providers (ISP)

In Germany the Ministry of Family Affairs has recently started campaigning for Germany to become a partner in the CIRCAMP network. The major Internet Service Providers covering 95 % of Internet traffic are expected to voluntarily sign a contract committing themselves to filtering, based on an URL list operated by the Federal Criminal Police Office, legal regulation might follow the voluntary agreement.

While advocacies for the CIRCAMP system point out the positive impact of reducing access to illegal child abusive material, critical opponents call it censorship and worry about the right to freedom of speech. Also it is mentioned in the debate that filtering on ISP level would open Pandora's box and lead to unlimited demand for filtering on other purpose than child abusive material, f. e. copyright infringement. Other stakeholders mention the need to prosecute persistently the production of child abusive material instead of mere blocking of access to such material. They claim also that most child abusive material is exchanged via peer-to-peer networks or Internet Relay Chats (IRC) and not stored on web servers and thus cannot be blocked effectively by domain name based filtering. Experts also assume that domain based filtering is not very useful to combat the commercial dealing with child abusive material, because for technically skilled users it is easy to circumvent the blocking mechanisms. Finally there are concerns about the correctness of the URLs and about the feasibility to keep the list as secret as necessary. This point is underlined by the publication of two lists from Denmark and Thailand on Wikileaks, although these lists were identified as out-of-date. Several studies support the thesis that domain based filtering is in conflict with other legal regulations and infringes especially the secrecy of telecommunications.

In view of the YPRT survey results it has to be mentioned that the European experts judged the police as a less relevant gatekeeper with regard to youth protection online. The current debate emphasises once more the need to agree on joint efforts for youth protection. Neither police nor service and content providers will be able to solve the problem alone. Eventually only a collaborative environment ensuring the principle of legal certainty will strengthen the efforts of each single stakeholder to improve youth protection online.

[1] COSPOL stands for Comprehensive, Operational, Strategic Planning for the Police. It is a multilateral law enforcement instrument under the guidance, support and direction of the European Police Chiefs Taskforce (EPCTF) and was set up in 2004 under the Dutch presidency of the European Union.

Available on the website since February 25, 2009