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Europe Debates Child Pornography Site Blocking

Automatic blocks against offensive Web sites, as the EU is demanding, are too easy to route around, say Internet service providers.

An escalating war of words between the European Parliament and European Internet service providers centers on how child pornography should be located, policed, and removed from the Web.

In the European Parliament, France and Italy are pushing for a law that requires Internet service providers to actively block child sexual abuse material, while Germany and Romania want such blocks to remain optional, according to EDRI-gram, which reports on European digital civil rights. Already, both Italy and France require service providers to block access to gambling sites and sites accused of infringing on intellectual property rights.

Now the European Internet Services Providers Association (EuroISPA), which represents over 1,800 ISPs in Europe, is weighing in on the proposed directive, aka law. In a statement, the group said that "blocking access to Web [sites] hosting child sexual abuse material is not a solution to this problem," since blocking does nothing to remove the content from the Internet. "Criminals make it their business to know how to circumvent blocks and continue to copy and share images."

According to Malcolm Hutty, president of EuroISPA, "to make the directive on child sexual exploitation as strong as possible, emphasis must be placed on making swift notice and take down of child sexual abuse material focused and effective." In particular, he called for better communication channels between service providers and law enforcement agencies.

Efforts to craft the related legislation -- the directive on sexual abuse, sexual exploitation of children, and child pornography -- began in March 2010, and it was adopted by the Council of Justice Ministers in December 2010. Next, the European Commission is due to debate the related legislation in February and expected to reach a final agreement in June.

But as the directive comes up for debate, there's a continuing argument over whether child pornography Web sites should be blocked, removed, or both. "A Web page containing child-pornography material should be immediately obscured by any means," according to a working document written by Roberta Angelilli, the Italian member of the European Parliament (MEP) in charge of the legislation. "Concerning the big discussion between removal or blocking... the removal of child pornographic content at the source would be the most preferable solution provided that it would be easy to implement and would take a shorter time." But a realistic solution, she said, would probably involve both.

Still, more than one MEP may be wary of blocks. According to ISPreview, last year several MEPs questioned the effectiveness of blocking, and noted that "a Web site for a campaign against child pornography had twice been blocked in the Netherlands as a result of such filters."

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