News

Project Cleanfeed Canada

Yesterday Canada's largest ISPs, including Bell, Bell Aliant, MTS Allstream, Rogers, Shaw, SaskTel, Telus, and Videotron, announced the launch of Project Cleanfeed Canada in partnership with cybertip.ca.  The project will allow the ISPs to block access to hundreds of child pornography sites.  The list of sites will be generated by cybertip.ca.

Project Cleanfeed, which follows a UK model, is likely to generate several responses, notably concerns about censorship and fears that this could extend to other forms of content. While some skepticism is understandable, it should be noted that cybertip.ca will implement an appeal process for content providers who believe that their content is wrongly blocked (though the list of blocked sites will not be publicly disclosed since it would provide a child pornography directory).  

More importantly, while some may suggest that this opens the door to other blocking – hate content, defamatory content or copyright infringement to name three – there is a crucial difference with child pornography that should prevent a similar approach.  While those forms of content may raise legal issues, in the case of child pornography, it is illegal to even access the content. That is a crucial difference since under current law there are no valid free speech arguments for either disseminating child pornography nor for seeking the right to access it.  Given that difference, the right of appeal, and the active involvement of cybertip.ca, the arrival of Project Cleanfeed in Canada looks like a good news story that merits close monitoring.

77 Comments

  1. Cory Doctorow says:

    Cleanfeeds won’t stop child-porn, but w
    Michael, I think that you’re being entirely too sanguine about a secret blacklist of content. Having had my own material censored by such blacklists at the national and local level, I’m a lot less trusting of these systems.

    The idea is fundamentally broken. First of all, it seems to me that keeping a secret list of “evil” content is inherently subject to abuse. This is certainly something we’ve seen in every single other instance of secret blacklisting: axe-grinding, personal vendettas, and ass-covering are the inevitable outcome of a system in which there is absolute authority, no due process, and no accountability.

    The appeals process is likewise flawed. If the self-appointed censors opt to block, for example, material produced by and for gay teens about their sexuality (a common “edge-case” in child porn debates), then teens will have to out themselves as gay to avail themselves of the appeals process.

    Notwithstanding this, it’s hard to imagine how an appeals process would unfold. How could someone who wanted a site unblocked marshal a cogent argument for his case unless he could see the content and determine whether it was being inappropriately blocked?

    Likewise, there is no imaginable way in which such a system could possibly be comprehensive in blocking child porn. It will certainly miss material that is genuinely child pornography. The Internet is too big for such a list to be compiled, and the censorship problems are compounded as the lists grow.

    If, for example, Canada were to import Australia’s secret list of bad sites, then Canadians would then be subject to the potential abuses of unscrupulous (or unintelligent) censors in Australia, as well as in Canada. You’d have to trust the Canadian censor-selector process, and the Australian one. The longer lists that would emerge from the merger process would be harder to audit — the haystacks of real porn larger, the needles of censorship smaller.

    Worst of all is the problem of site-level blocking for user-created content sites like Blogger, Typepad, Geocities, YouTube, etc. These sites inevitably contain child porn and other objectionable material, because new, anonymous accounts can be created there by people engaged in bad speech. However, these sites are also the primary vehicle by which users express their own feelings and beliefs and are frequently posted to anonymously by whistle-blowers, rape victims, dissidents in totalitarian states and others who have good reason to hide their identities.

    Site-level blacklisting can’t cope with these sites. They can try to block by subdomain or directory (e.g. childporn.typepad.com or blogger.com/childporn) but these URLs are very easy to change. The general response of net-censors to these sites is to block them entirely, or demand that they adhere to some imposed code of conduct that calls for eliminating anonymity and close monitoring of content.

    Finally, these methods only stop stupid child pornographers from gaining access. Smart child pornographers use Tor, or IRC, or BitTorrent, or Usenet, or email to get their material. Any dedicated child pornography collector will not be stymied by Cleanfeed.

    Like so many other systems that “keep honest users honest,” Cleanfeed will only serve to keep honest users in chains, and allow bad actors to skip off without any substantial inconvenience.

    I think you’ve failed to think this one through.

  2. exactly who is cybertip.ca?
    I visited the cybertip.ca site, and it appears to be an extension of Child Find Manitoba. Unfortunately they never clearly say who they are, and it is hard to tell if they are a non-profit organization, a quasi-governmental outfit, or a self-serving outfit like ‘Captain Copyright’. It is offensive to have an organization that has no clear accountability to the public can dictate what the public has access to. Regardless of their good intentions, I do not see how Project Cleanfeed is going to keep the various special interest and lobby groups from adding to the list.

  3. Michael Geist says:

    Response to Cory
    Cory – while I share some of your concerns, I still think this is worth trying. First, of course determined (or even not that determined) child pornographers will be able to break the law and access child pornography. However, I do think that blocking hundreds of child porn sites will provide some measure of protection for the overwhelming majority of the population who are not seeking to access such content yet may inadvertently come across it. That is a clear societal harm and this has the potential to help address it.

    With respect to overblocking, I believe that the current regulatory framework creates strong disincentives against doing so. ISPs that block lawful content face potential liability for doing so. Given their stake in this, I believe their incentive is to block less rather than more (though I acknowledge that there is past precedent for content blocking by Telus).

    The appeal process and lack of transparency of the list is indeed a major problem and I don’t have a great answer for that. I think the appellate process must provide for anonymous complaints and guard against abuse. I’m less troubled by the ability for a potential recipient to complain about their inability to access content (the content they can’t see) – I think it falls to content creator to do so.

    There is no easy answer about the transparency of the lists. I discussed this same issue with the people at the Citizen Lab who do great work on exposing censorship in other countries. They also maintain large lists of censored sites, yet do not reveal those sites because that would similarly provide countries with directories of things to block. It seems to me that the issue requires a choice of lesser evils – in the case of Citizen Lab, exposing censorship outweighs the lack of transparency in the process. In the case of child pornography – treated under our legal system as far more than just “bad speech” – I think trying to do something outweighs doing nothing at all.

  4. Cory Doctorow says:

    What’s the use-case?
    It seems that the use-case here is quite muddled. Is this really about stopping people from *inadvertently* seeing bad content? That’s a pretty narrow goal for such a sweeping program. Is this a real social ill? Does it really happen all that often in the course of web-browsing? (It may be that spam contains a lot of this kind of thing, but this program won’t stop spam). If it does, is that largely the result of spyware infecting peoples’ computers, and if so, wouldn’t it make more sense to create governmental anti-spyware programs?

    I look at previously unviewed web-pages all day, every day. I am probably six sigmas above normal for adventuresome web-surfing, and I can count the number of times I’ve inadvertently stumbled on clear child porn on the fingers of one hand. Has this happened to you? How many times? Under what circumstances?

    I think that you’ve got the appeals process backwards. It’s often the case that the blockee doesn’t know that her content is being censored (at Boing Boing, we only discover this when we’re contacted by a user, but we know it happens more than that). It’s also often the case that the censored content is “orphaned” — an old web-page with no apparent author. Likewise, a lot of sensitive content doesn’t have a contactable author — the kid in the Solomon Islands who writes an article about growing up gay in an indigenous community is anonymous, so the Cree kid in Saskatchewan who wants to read his story can’t email him and ask him to initiate the appeals process in Canada (presuming that such a person would have the wherewithal to petition for an appeal).

    Do you think Telus will maintain its own blacklist? I’d be really surprised. I think it’s far more likely that they’ll follow the lead of other blacklisting ISPs and governments and sign up with a company like Secure Computing, a company that classed all of Boing Boing as porn because some 150 out of 35,000 posts contained small amounts of artistic nudity (and then offered to cut us a secret backroom deal to unblock us if we would change the structure of our site to make it easier for them to censor only part of it).

    Maintaining such a list is very hard — the space of “all potential child porn on the Internet” is gigantic, and yet still an infinitesimal fraction of all the Internet. So on the one hand, you have to maintain a gigantic index (which will go stale as domains change hands, etc) and on the other, the child porn itself is but a needle in the Internet haystack and requires a huge, expensive trained team to locate. And you have to trust every person on that team to have perfect judgment, no axes to grind, etc.

  5. Darryl Moore says:

    NO corporate censorship!
    Micheal, to address your points in your rebuttal to Cory.

    1) WRT protecting the overwhelming majority of the population who want to be protected; A voluntary blacklist works very well in this regard. With a voluntary list issues such as lack of transparency and appeal process become non-issues as you can bypass the black list any time you want.

    2) WRT list transparency; If this is indeed a national and mandatory blacklist with all the carriers participating, then where is the issue in making the list public? If people cannot get around the blacklist then the it does not matter that the list become a veritable directory of child porn. But it will help people who believe a site has wrongly been listed.

    3) WRT appeal; Cory makes a very good point which you seam unable to address. In a democratic society the entire censorship process must be in the open and administered by people who are accountable to society directly. If such a blacklist is to be foisted upon us, it MUST be undertaken by our government directly with a judicial appeal process.

    I will never object to any sort of blacklist or whitelist or green with orange polka dot list which is voluntary. As soon as you make any sort of list mandatory, then it becomes public policy and issues of accountability and transparency MUST take primary consideration. We can’t just sit back and remain hopeful that this new power in unaccountable hands will not be abused. That would be an invitation for abuse.

  6. Russel McOrmond says:

    Also opposed
    You can agree with the “why” of such a system, and still strongly disagree with the “how”. I hope that nobody will get insulting and suggest that those of us who flatly disagree with such a system are somehow supportive of child pornography.

    We need to be making information about bad sites available in an open and transparent manner. I also believe that it is appropriate for an ISP to offer the service (based on a demand from subscribers) to filter their own customers network connections, based on criteria set by the customer. There is a market for people to be behind a NAT/Firewall hosted by the ISP, where the ISP filters based on criteria chosen by that customer.

    I do not, however, believe in *any* reason for an intermediary in an end-to-end network to be doing their own filtering. Filtering should happen on the endpoints, or with the support of the endpoints, and nothing more.

    There are always going to be thin edges of the wedge. Someone can believe that packet-filtering based on a source or destination IPv4 address is warranted. When that fails (IPv6 routes, proxies, etc), then do people then move on to full stateful packet inspection? Who pays for this inspection? Once they have to pay the massive amounts of resources (==money) for this inspection for child porn, filtering based on other undesirable content (copyright infringement, competitive content, content people don’t like) will be nearly free.

    The end-to-end Internet works because all the innovation happens on the edges. Having filters is such an innovation, but it must also be on the edges otherwise the network will fail.

  7. Paul C. Bryan says:

    Where are their polcies? What is structure of accountability? Transparency? Where is the liability?

    Without these at least, no organization, no matter how good their intent, deserve our blind faith and trust that they’ll simply always do the right thing and not abuse their new found power.

    What objective criteria is used to deem content unacceptable to Cybertip.ca? Or is this a “I know it when I see it” style of subjective criteria?

    How is “overblocking” (with its certain collateral damage) handled? Do they lift the block to allow the legitimate content to be viewed, at the expense of allowing illegitimate content to be disseminated?

    Without a list, how do legitimate content owners determine that their content is or is not being blocked by Cybertip.ca? Must they subscribe to the participating ISPs? Is this the burden all content providers (regardless of their locale) must now take on?

    How often does Cybertip.ca review the blocked content in its list to determine if the content is still unacceptable? Or is the block permanent once it’s in place, regardless of what’s changed?

    How are sites listed? By IP address? By web URL? Are only the specific offending content blocked or is all surrounding, unoffensive content? Are other sites, authors, content on the same IP address, web site, blocked as well?

    How does one “unjustly” blocked due to “proximity” to objectional content seek redress? What is the process of appeal? What methods does one who loses in Cybertip.ca’s appeal process invoke to

    How is Cybertip.ca liable for restricting legitimate free expression when an individual is wrongly censored? Are they subject to s. 2(b) of the Charter or immune because they’re simply publishing a list?

    These are just the basic questions. Questions I would have expected to be fully answered by visiting their web site, and/or the web sites of the ISPs deciding, on our collective behalf, to subscribe to their lists.

    I’m surprised at your quickness to embrace this new technology without seeking even some rudimentary checks and balances to prevent the likely deleterious effects inherent in such a system.

  8. > While those forms of content may raise legal issues,
    > in the case of child pornography, it is illegal to even
    > access the content.

    Since cybertip/childfind is apparently not affiliated with law enforcement, except as a source of information – would it not be illegal for them to access the child pornography (albeit for reviewing purposes) in the first place? Would not publication of such a list would in fact be an admission of the crime?

  9. Mark Goldberg says:

    Cybertip’s ‘legitimate purpose’
    Ross: Let’s look at the law itself. The Criminal Code says “163.1(6) No person shall be convicted of an offence under this section if the act that is alleged to constitute the offence
    (a) has a legitimate purpose related to the administration of justice or to science, medicine, education or art; and
    (b) does not pose an undue risk of harm to persons under the age of eighteen years.

    The question would be if Cybertip ‘has a legitimate purpose related to the administration of justice’. I think there is a reasonable defense

  10. nameless citizen says:

    Unaccountable, invisible censorship? No.
    Sorry, unacceptable. Such a system has frightening potential for abuse, no matter what the initial rationale for bringing it into being.
    Find another solution.

  11. Bruce Martin says:

    This is like swatting flies with ICBMs
    Michael, please bear in mind that while child porn in abhorrent, its prevalence is greatly overstated in order to justify the existence of cybertips.ca and other entities who depend on public money.

    RCMP Supt. Earla-Kim McColl is quoted by CTV as saying that “the number of child pornography websites is estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands — or even millions”. And initially, the Cybertip blacklist will include “between 500 and 800 websites”, presumably adding thousands more each month. ( [ link ] )

    Michael, find yourself an anonymous proxy and see if you can find 500 illegal child porn sites. You can’t, because they don’t exist. Maybe you’ll find 10% of the dozens that are likely out there. If so, you’re smarter than the RCMP, who would have shut them down at their source if they could find them.

    That demonstrates better than anything else that this will harm hundreds, thousands or even “millions” of sites that are anything BUT child porn.

    You go on to say that there won’t be abuses, because the ISPs won’t risk the liability. Except that ISPs have already been indemnified by the authorities in exchanges for their cooperation. From the same news item quoted above, RCMP Supt. McColl had this to say about who chooses the sites to blacklist:

    “That’s not (the ISPs’) responsibility, to monitor who’s doing what. This is just a question of these sites being illegal, and so we’re just going to prevent people from accessing them.” Nice how a police officer is now empowered to pass sentence against a site’s content and execute it, all in one sweep.

    Michael, PLEASE look into this further. We need you here.

  12. Safer Homework – THANKS!
    Interesting all the commentary seems to be from men. Gentlemen, debate the legals all you want, but see what your parenting gut tells you when your child in gr 3 working on a group project about schools for Native children googles for info about educating native girls and up comes a slew of sites with pics of native girls from asia being educated in ways for certain you don’t want your (or any other) 8 year old to see. Yes, we reported it but the images were viewed by our child. This is real life, real time CRIME out there and honestly, when it’s MY child, absolutely I side with he/she not being able to access any of it, at all, thank you very much. Cory is absolutely right the system can’t touch the smart (dedicated) child pornography collectors who won’t be stymied by any of this, but if it blocks ‘accidental access’ by our kids, Mom says thank you to the UK for the world-leading work they’re doing in this entire area, and thank you to Canada’s ISPs for assuming some leadership here, along with CyberTip and the Canadian Coalition Against Internet Child Exploitation (CCAICE) which hopefully will continue to grow.

  13. nameless citizen says:

    No safer homework this way.
    Cyber-Mom, if you’ve been paying attention you would know that the problem with this initiative is that it won’t stop your child from seeing porn, and it very likely will stop your child from doing any credible research on the Web.

    Oh, and for implying that being men means that we are in favor of child porn, you are demonstrably wrong. Please don’t spew your hate here.

  14. Cyber-Mom: While I agree that your child should not have been exposed to such images what gives you or any other person the right to censor *my* Internet browsing? (admittedly I’ve never had the urge to go looking for child porn and have reported sites that I have found to contain it when web browsing)

    Now if the blacklist was opt-in on the ISP’s customer side that would be one thing. You could have your ISP block content while I could tell them to leave me off such a service.

    I do have one question though? Was your child surfing the web on his/her own with no parental supervision?? And if he/she wasn’t why didn’t you take the opportunity to educate your child on the dangers of the Internet and child porn in specific? If you did then good for you.

  15. Answer to G: To clarify – the situation involved a study group of 4 gr3s working on a group project on 2 PCs in our family room with 2 other parents (also attending) in the room. 2 children surfing and 2 bibliographying (site listing). When this came up we ushered them out of the room, and called police. Officers responded and a report was filed.

    Answer to NC: No, no implication or hate intended. Only desire to add of a mom’s perspective in a list of ‘non-moms’ (at least they all appear to be male names above to me). And presumably ‘dads’ in a similar situation would respond the same way we moms did. You are very correct, nothing will stop anyone from seeing porn if that’s their intent, at issue in our circumstance was little children and ‘non-intent’.

  16. Michael Geist says:

    Responding to today’s comments
    There has obviously been a great deal of commentary with much to consider. A few responses to the general discussion:

    1. There appears to be some confusion about the nature of the blocklist. First, ISPs will not maintain their own lists nor look to corporate providers. The sole source of the list will be cybertip.ca. Cybertip.ca tries to find middle ground between public and private. It has private supporters, but has been designated by the government as the national tipline for child pornography. This strikes me as a reasonable attempt to avoid charges of state-sponsored censorship and/or commercial incentives to block. Moreover, the suggestions that the block list should be made public is simply a non-starter – to do so would likely violate the Criminal Code.

    2. There are several comments that suggest the blocking is government mandated. That is not true. Each ISP has voluntarily adopted Cleanfeed and there remain many Canadian ISPs that have yet to do so.

    3. There are several puzzling comments that seem to suggest that the filters should be placed in the hands of individuals so that people can decide for themselves whether they want to access the blocked content. Let me repeat – accessing this content is illegal. I do not understand how people can suggest that they should have the right to access this content when the law clearly states that they do not.

    4. There are also some suggestions that the system is ineffective and/or that the problem is exxaggerated. Note that a similar system is run by British Telecom in the UK. Earlier this year, BT reported that the system was blocking 35,000 attempts per day to access this content [[ link ]]. 35,000 blocks per day for a single ISP does not strike me as insignificant. With respect to its effectiveness, there has indeed been some studies of the UK that question its effectiveness. However, an Australian commentary on the BT approach lamented how few sites were being blocked. Far from overbroad blocking of thousands of sites, the Senator noted that there were under 1,000 child pornography sites[[ link ]]. The same criticism (a feature not a bug in my view) can be said of the Canadian approach.

    Ultimately, I agree that there are risks with this approach and that Cybertip.ca must become far more transparent about its policies with respect to appeals. However, the risks identified in the comments must be set off against the risks of doing nothing about a very real harm. For now, I remain of the view that this is a risk worth taking.

  17. First to Cyber-Mom: So what I am understanding from your post is that when something bad came up, you insulated the children. While I would disagree with that (having always had my parents sit me down and explain to me why something was bad when it came up instead of sending me away and pretending nothing had happened), I won’t be so sanctimonious as to sit here and tell you how to raise your children.

    Michael:
    “1. There appears to be some confusion about the nature of the blocklist. First, ISPs will not maintain their own lists nor look to corporate providers. The sole source of the list will be cybertip.ca. Cybertip.ca tries to find middle ground between public and private. It has private supporters, but has been designated by the government as the national tipline for child pornography.”

    So am I to understand that Cybertip.ca will be responsible to the Government as well as share holders? If that’s so who would take precedence in the case of differing opinions? (For instance the gov says not to block a site but the shareholders want the site blocked) Or would there be no say from one side or the other as to what is to be blocked?

    “2. There are several comments that suggest the blocking is government mandated. That is not true. Each ISP has voluntarily adopted Cleanfeed and there remain many Canadian ISPs that have yet to do so.”

    Assuming the Government declares CleanFeed a success do you think they would have any trouble making the block list mandatory for all ISPs? I know this is a what-if scenario but lets face it this is a slippery-slope we’re on at this point. The idea is not that far-fetched especially if they did it around election time to get more votes.

    “3. There are several puzzling comments that seem to suggest that the filters should be placed in the hands of individuals so that people can decide for themselves whether they want to access the blocked content. Let me repeat – accessing this content is illegal. I do not understand how people can suggest that they should have the right to access this content when the law clearly states that they do not. ”

    And that’s really the point isn’t it? There are already mechanisms in place for punishing the viewing, downloading and otherwise accessing of child porn, Why do I need the government or in this case something worse, a *private* entity, holding my hand and treating me like a child? I’m all for having a block list for those parents that can’t or won’t watch their children while they are on the Internet, but I am no child and can make my own decisions on what is right and wrong.

  18. Cory Doctorow says:

    Without transparency, it\s moot
    : 1. There appears to be some confusion about the nature of the blocklist.
    : First, ISPs will not maintain their own lists nor look to corporate
    : providers. The sole source of the list will be cybertip.ca. Cybertip.ca
    : tries to find middle ground between public and private. It has private
    : supporters, but has been designated by the government as the national
    : tipline for child pornography. This strikes me as a reasonable attempt
    : to avoid charges of state-sponsored censorship and/or commercial
    : incentives to block. Moreover, the suggestions that the block list
    : should be made public is simply a non-starter – to do so would likely
    : violate the Criminal Code.

    Well, there you have it. There\’s no way that we can achieve democratic transparency while keeping this list a secret. What do we do about orphan works on the list? Works by authors who have no economic or social agency? How do we know what\’s on the list if we can\’t see it? How do we know it\’s not badly construed?

    If a Canadian petitions to have something removed from the list and cybertip.ca deliberates in private according to secret criteria and then opts to deny the appeal, does that mean that the site the Canadian wanted to see IS child porn?

    :
    : 2. There are several comments that suggest the blocking is government
    : mandated. That is not true. Each ISP has voluntarily adopted Cleanfeed
    : and there remain many Canadian ISPs that have yet to do so.
    :
    : 3. There are several puzzling comments that seem to suggest that the
    : filters should be placed in the hands of individuals so that people can
    : decide for themselves whether they want to access the blocked content.
    : Let me repeat – accessing this content is illegal. I do not understand
    : how people can suggest that they should have the right to access this
    : content when the law clearly states that they do not.

    Well sure, if we were positive that the list ONLY contained child porn, this would make sense. But we\’re not sure of that — in fact, the existence of the appeals process tells us that THEY\’RE not sure of it either.

    :
    : 4. There are also some suggestions that the system is ineffective and/or
    : that the problem is exxaggerated. Note that a similar system is run by
    : British Telecom in the UK. Earlier this year, BT reported that the
    : system was blocking 35,000 attempts per day to access this content [[
    : link ]]. 35,000 blocks per day for a single ISP does not strike me as
    : insignificant. With respect to its effectiveness, there has indeed been
    : some studies of the UK that question its effectiveness. However, an
    : Australian commentary on the BT approach lamented how few sites were
    : being blocked. Far from overbroad blocking of thousands of sites, the
    : Senator noted that there were under 1,000 child pornography sites[[ link
    : ]]. The same criticism (a feature not a bug in my view) can be said of
    : the Canadian approach.

    So here\’s the question:

    1. Were those people seeking child porn, or were they the notional \”accidental child porn\” viewers (have you ever seen child porn online by accident?)

    2. Were the actual child-porn-seekers prevented from seeing child porn?

    3. Were all the results true-positives, or does the number reflect an overbroad blacklist? Have we seen the list? Do we know?

  19. Question
    Referring to Cyber=Mom’s example, would any website bearing information about “educating native girls” now be blocked by Cybertips’ blacklist?

    And will the tens of thousands of hits prevented by that blockade now count as “successes” proving the worth of thie system?

    It would seem so.

  20. Russel McOrmond says:

    What tech?
    Michael,

    You belief that technology exists that can block sites that are “clearly illegal” for child porn reasons, but not have unintended consequences of also blocking sites that are “clearly legal” for a variety of other reasons. You don’t believe that IPv4 packet filtering won’t lead to mandated proxies and NAT where all content is denied except that which is approved by the ISP (IE: the same policy change that happened in most firewalls, from allow except what is explicitly denied changing to deny except what is explicitly allowed).

    I don’t believe any such technology exists, and believe that this is a slippery slope. This is the core of my lack of support for such a system, and this disagreement is entirely separate from what I may feel about any possible content of those packets. As much as I think it is appropriate to block child porn (I don’t subscribe to the idea that individuals should be free to view it if they so choose), I do not believe that this is a problem that has a simple technological solution.

    I’m all for seeking solutions to this problem, but we need to recognize when something isn’t a solution and keep looking. Saying that “doing something” is better than “doing nothing” is not correct as you have to balance out the intended with the unintended consequences.

    I find some of the comments insulting that suggest that if you are a parent, or if you are the right gender, that you will ignore the unintended consequences. “Won’t someone think of the children” has been used as an excuse to do many bad things. I think those who are willing to stick their necks out in this type of conversation, risking being called child pornographers for daring to critique this scheme, have already demonstrated their non-selfish support for the public interest (including those of future generations). I worry that people acting emotionally, rather than thinking rationally through the actual implementation and unintended consequences, will cause far more harm than good.

  21. Father of four says:

    Two wrongs don’t make a right
    Michael,

    Your defense of this scheme doesn’t hold water.

    Any site that is “clearly illegal” is promptly shut down by the numerous law enforcement agencies, and the responsible parties are charged, convicted, and punished. A pretty good system, I think.

    But this Cybertips black list exists to block OTHER sites, ones that ARE NOT “clearly illegal” and not liable to be shutdown in any legal manner. This assumption that the Cybertips crowd should have special powers beyond those of the police and the courts is just plain immoral.

    And immoral behaviour, even if its purpose is to fight other immoral behaviour, does not deserve Michael Geist’s support.

  22. D. Hugh Redelmeier says:

    Citizen
    I have no way of knowing whether I’m being blocked. Surely cybertip.ca should have an example of a harmless dummy blocked site so that we can test. The fact that they don’t mention one shows either a lack of technical wisdom or a tendency to covertness.

    Michael: re #1: How would disclosing the list of blocked sites break the law? That sounds like a bad law, if true.

    re #2. How can one know if his or her ISP is blocking sites (unless it so declares)? How do you know that many have not done so? I believe that regulations should exist to prevent ISPs blocking anything — the common carrier model.

    re #3. My accessing such content would not be illegal. I would only do it (1) accidentally (and that hasn’t happened to me, as far as I remember, in 25 years of using the internet and its predecessors), or (2) for a legitimate purpose of science (studying the internet) (I’ve not done that either, but this blocking makes it more technically interesting). I do have a union card for doing science (PhD).

    I have to admit that I don’t know the precise definition of child pornography being used by cybertip. Some definitions are pretty broad. Those are particularly unsupportable.

    Anyway, your asserting that my access would be illegal is very likely wrong.

    “Voluntary blocking” reminds one of the McCarthy era blacklists. Really.

    re #4. I have serious reservations about the “35,000 hits” figure. Just what was measured? Without specifying this, the figure is meaningless. My primary IP address gets a lot of hits each day for services that it does not offer. Bots knocking at my at my door. Perhaps that is what is being counted. Actual humans have better things to do than aim their browser at a blocked site and hit reload all day (like, for example, going to an unblocked site).

    The fact that a clearly meaningless figures is used to justify this casts even more suspicion on the enterprise.

    I feel that this is a very bad idea, mostly for reasons that have already been expressed.
    - thin edge of a whole bunch of wedges (mostly: power in the wrong hands)
    - all for something that will not be effective for any purpose that has been claimed by supporters
    - it will even provide a false sense of safety.

  23. Any site that is “clearly illegal” is promptly shut down by the numerous law enforcement agencies, and the responsible parties are charged, convicted, and punished. A pretty good system, I think.

    But this Cybertips black list exists to block OTHER sites, ones that ARE NOT “clearly illegal” and not liable to be shutdown in any legal manner. This assumption that the Cybertips crowd should have special powers beyond those of the police and the courts is just plain immoral.

    Cybertip will continue shutting down illegal sites within Canada (1100 over 4 year before Project Cleanfeed). Cleanfeed is a solution to how they deal with the issue of international sites that they can’t shut down.

  24. Ah, blockquotes didn’t show up in my comment. The first two paragraphs of the preceding post are quotations from a previous commenter, and the last paragraph is my response.

    [ link ]

  25. We simply don’t trust censors
    This really comes down to trust.
    With out accountability and transparency we do not trust cybertips.ca
    Cybertips.ca is not accountable to the public either directly or indirectly.
    Cybertips.ca is not transparent to the public.
    The various levels of government are maintaining an arms length relationship with cybertips.ca so they can’t be quilty of sponsoring censorship.
    The law is clear that viewing child pornography outside of justice and law enforcement (and only as part of assigned duties) is limited to a very select few (mostly researchers and child psychologists). Personal research and art are not generally considered acceptable excuses.
    Publishing the blacklist is different than publishing images. Obviously hundreds of administrators at the various ISPs have access to the list (if not directly, then indirectly from the error logs). What group do they fall under?

  26. I doubt there are any real child porn websites. In 12 years of internet use I’ve *never* come across a child porn site while surfing. There may very well be child porn on Usenet and Torrents but the degree of difficulty in doing this requires very specific effort. CyberTips.ca, at least regarding websites, is pointless. 21 year old women with ponytails performing sexual actions may be inappropriate for kids to view but that site is not illegal and does not belong anywhere in CyberTips.ca territory.

  27. Michael Geist says:

    One More Response
    Thanks for all the comments – the discussion has been very informative and helps crystallize concerns that I hope the ISPs and Cybertip.ca will address, particularly the specifics behind the appellate process and the mechanism under which sites are added to the block list.

    There are several streams of comments that I simply disagree with. For example, arguments that people should be entitled to choose for themselves about whether they access the blocked content are simply wrong. Accessing this content is illegal and this is not a choice that Canadians are allowed to make under the Criminal Code.

    Those that argue that there is no child pornography problem are also wrong. Over the past four years, the work of cybertip.ca has led to 22 arrests and the shutting down of 1,700 websites. There have been no allegations that cybertip.ca has targeted anything other than Internet-based child pornography [[ link ]].

    Claims that the law can currently address this issue by taking down child pornography sites are also wrong – Canadian-based sites can be targeted, but given that accessing such content is also unlawful, Canadian law cannot deal with child pornography hosted outside the country. Indeed, I think attempts to enforce the no access aspect of the law are potentially far more problematic as they would require active monitoring of Internet users to identify those accessing child pornography.

    The concerns about the lack of transparency are well taken, though I believe this system does have some safeguards – a respected, non-partisan, government-approved body charged with identifying sites and active participation of law enforcement before any sites are added to the block list. Moreover, the ISPs have no input into the content of the list and have undertaken to not maintain a record of those customers that try to access blocked sites. The fear that this could extend beyond child pornography are understandable, yet there are strong incentives not to do so – the public would express outrage over a clear case of censorship, the ISPs themselves would strongly object (and likely drop the program) as it would raise potential regulatory concerns, and cybertip.ca would jeopardize its government and private sector support.

    It is worth noting that when Cleanfeed was launched in the UK two years ago, many of the same criticisms were raised (with Cory unsurprisingly actively involved) [[ link ]]. However, more than two years later, I have had trouble finding comments, articles or reports that suggest that the Internet Watch Foundation (the UK equivalent of Cybertip.ca) has added sites that stray beyond child pornography. Indeed, noted tech law journalist Wendy Grossman has just posted a commentary expressing concern about the accountability of IWF that acknowledges that “the IWF has done a respectable job of sticking to clearly illegal child pornography involving children.” [[ link ]]

  28. Michael:
    “Accessing this content is illegal and this is not a choice that Canadians are allowed to make under the Criminal Code.\”

    I have the *choice* to follow or disregard *any* law I want. However, with choices come consequences, by choosing not to follow a particular law I am opening myself to any and all charges that may be brought against me.

    “The fear that this could extend beyond child pornography are understandable, yet there are strong incentives not to do so – the public would express outrage over a clear case of censorship, the ISPs themselves would strongly object (and likely drop the program) as it would raise potential regulatory concerns, and cybertip.ca would jeopardize its government and private sector support.\”

    And how exactly who the public be made aware if any other site beyond child porn sites were on the block list? Could their ISP tell them? Not according to you: “The ISPs have no input into the content of the list\” and my guess would be no actual list to look at period. How does the average person find out if a site has been blocked without looking like a pervert/criminal? Or is it simply “Go where we say you can go and don’t even think about asking questions.\”

    Now for two wholly different line of questions and comments:
    It\’s already been stated that this won\’t stop the really determined people from finding and getting this stuff. But in fact it will make it near impossible to find the people that do this now. They will be forced to use anonymous proxies and other services that mask their IP and ISP as well as where they are going and what they download. As most of those proxies are not in Canada law enforcement would not be able to get any records of people going to these sites. They would also turn more and more to the bit torrent and P2P programs. Are ISPs going to be required to start blocking those as well?

    And lastly I don\’t recall, but don\’t Canadian ISPs have a \”common carrier\” status? By actively policing the Internet (and yes by *voluntarily* using the Cybertip black list they are actively policing the Internet) would they not lose that status and now be open to lawsuits brought against them if some child or other random surfer comes across a child porn site that was not blocked by the \”cleanfeed\”? (hmmm maybe if that\’s the case I should be all for this so I could pad my bank account a little :) )

  29. Darryl Moore says:

    Creating and accessing the list
    Michael, a few points on your last post.

    Regarding your assertion that people should not be able to choose for themselves whether to visit a site because the content is illegal. The problem here is just how these sites are determined to be illegal. Unless an accountable government quasi-judicial panel is making that determination, then I’m afraid the legal status of ANY site is questionable. Perhaps an explicit act of Parliament authorizing Cibertips would do the trick. It would certainly allow public participation in the creation of the system, which is something that is seriously lacking in this plan.

    Another of your objections is for allowing people to have access to the list. I cannot see how this can be illegal without going down the slippery slope of making hyperlinks to other, possibly illegal or unlicensed, content also a crime. Further if the population is truly blocked from accessing these sites, then there cannot possibly be any harm in publishing the list, and it will allow people who might be being unfairly targeted to at least know they are. Not publishing the list is the digital equivalent of having the secret police come around in the dark of night and “disappear” you.

  30. Cory Doctorow says:

    Other “unpublishable” lists
    If the list of child porn is too hot to handle, then why not prohibit publication of:

    * Lists of drug-dealer arrests (it’s always illegal for Canadians to buy cocaine — a list of arrests for selling it is like a road-map for those in search of more)

    * Lists of prostitution arrests (likewise)

  31. Cory Doctorow says:

    Independent publication of the list
    If publication of the blacklist is per se illegal, does that mean that it would be illegal for an independent watchdog group to invite users to submit the URLs that cybertip.ca blocked for them to a website that published the list of sites banned by the quasi-governmental entity?

  32. Darryl Moore says:

    hope? to address issues
    Another statement which concerns me: “the discussion has been very informative and helps crystallize concerns that I hope the ISPs and Cybertip.ca will address”

    This is the crux of the problem isn’t it? You trust both the ISPs and Cybertip to exercise good judgment. Even when no mechanism exists to verify that judgment. The rest of us do not, and we are very skeptical that such a system would not be abused without built it checks.

    We should not “hope”, as you say, that these entities will address these issues. We need to demand that these issues are addressed by an accountable agency of our democratic government before we even consider allowing such a plan to move forward.

    Your stand on this issue seems very out of character to me. In general all your other writing are very pro democracy and accountability, and against corporate or other authoritarian control of the Internet and technology. I’m having a hard time figuring out how your stand here is consistent with your other beliefs.

  33. illegality
    I guess one problem I have is that Mr. Geist keeps referring to the sites on the list as “illegal” and ipso facto illegal for a Canadian to look at or apparently even know about. It seems to me that this amounts to prior restraint– sites shouldn’t be illegal until found to be so, by some accountable, transparent process. Admittedly, because the internet is a global thing, sites might not be prosecutable, but that is a different thing from being publically declared illegal.

  34. Cory Doctorow says:

    Keeps honest users honest?
    I wonder if the crux of the pro-secret-censorship argument isn’t that it “keeps honest users honest” — that is, that it stops “casual pedophiles” from looking at child porn.

    This is analogous to the argument advanced by DRM advocates — DRM can be circumvented, so it only discourages “casual pirates.”

    Ed Felten once observed [ link ] that porn made Hollywood advance P2P companies’ arguments and vice versa:

    “For example, Hollywood argues that filesharing will lead to a shortage of movies, because nobody will make movies they can’t sell. But when the topic switches to pornographic movies, suddenly they start arguing that filesharing increases the creation and availability of content.

    “Similarly, some P2P vendors who say they can’t possibly filter or block copyrighted content, suddenly decide, when the topic switches to porn, that they can provide effective blocking.”

    If DRM won’t keep honest users honest, then why will a secret blacklist keep honest users honest?

  35. Cory Doctorow says:

    Architecture is politics
    Michael, I continue to be baffled by the premise that an unaccountable, secret blacklist will not be subject to abuse. We don’t know if the UK system works, because we have only their word for it. As many people have pointed out, the edge-cases in child porn are the kind of thing that you’re unlikely to get appeals from, because doing so requires you to out yourself as, say, a gay teen — or it requires someone whose identity is unknown to be alerted to the blocking and step forward.

    In the US, the patent re-examination system used to only grant standing to people who were infringing the patent. To start the appeals process you had to first admit that you were in violation of the patent. If you lost, it was a cake-walk for the patent-holder to get a judgment against you, using the admission you signed to get the ball rolling. As a result, there were hardly any petitions for re-examination.

    But that doesn’t mean the patent system was working! It means that the patent system was broken in ways that made it impossible to tell how broken it was.

    Architecture is politics. If you design a system where blacklists are composed in secret, and where you have to out yourself as a potential criminal, pedophiliac pervert to object to an entry on the blacklist, and where objections are deliberated over in secret according to secret criteria, you design a system that is an invitation to abuse.

    If I publish a comic that is potentially classed as child pornography (such as Alan Moore’s brilliant Lost Girls), and it gets stopped by Canada Customs, that entire process is public and subject to scrutiny. The fact that Customs considers this comic to be child porn is public. The publisher, the public, an importer, a reader, or the author can all petition to have this reconsidered. In the end, the comic can be found to be artistic and taken off the blacklist:

    [ link ]

    That’s how Canada handles child porn today. It works. Canada doesn’t treat the list of banned child porn as a state secret. What you’re proposing is a radical shift in the transparency of Canada’s official censorship regime.

    You write as though a determination that a work is child pornography is unambiguous and trivial. But this isn’t true. The new, unexpurgated edition of the Diary of Anne Frank contains graphic depictions of underage sexuality. For decades, these scenes were bowdlerized from the original text. Do you think it’s impossible that someone who shared the sensibility of Frank’s censors will end up at cybertip.ca?

    I don’t understand your reasoning. There are two potential premises:

    1. Child porn is very hard to find, so publishing the blacklist will make a huge difference in pedophiles’ lives — so we should not publish the list. But if it’s so hard to find, then how can it be a gigantic problem? How can people inadvertently end up seeing hard-to-find child porn (and I repeat my question: have you ever accidentally seen child porn while looking at the Web?)

    2. Child porn is very easy to find, and is therefore a widespread problem, with 35,000 Britons trying to look at it every day. It’s so easy to find that you end up seeing it even when you’re not looking for it (have you ever seen child porn by accident while looking at the web?). If this is so, what’s the incremental harm of publishing the list of known child porn sites? With enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow. Maintaining such a list in public would subject it to vigorous scrutiny and review, to make it as comprehensive and accurate as possible.

    The difference between science and alchemy is whether or not you publish your research. For 500 years, every alchemist discovered for himself — the hard way — that drinking mercury was poison. When alchemists started to publish their outcomes, we called it the Enlightenment.

    Today, scientists publish recipes for nuclear weapons. Genomes for world-killing pandemic superbugs. Is child porn so much more toxic than a planet-busting bomb that we can’t even publish the list of prohibited material?

    More importantly: is the cataloging of child porn possessed of some special quality that makes it tractable by private, secret practitioners — even though every other comparable effort in every other field of endeavor succeeds through publication, peer review and public scrutiny?

  36. Michael, this program could be great for the efforts of blocking illegal speech [ and yes there are a lot of types of illegal speech ] however, cybertip should be completely limited to extra-canadian blocking of external sites. They should be prohibited from blocking ANY Canadia content. Period. Full Stop. End of story. It is the RCMP’s responsibility to shut down these sites and hold those accountable responsible through due process. Blocking Canadian content is completely unacceptable because it subverts the judicial system.

    Next, extra-national sites that are blocked is a REALLY-GOOD-IDEA, we dont have the legal tools to shut down these sites so they should be blocked. But personally I don’t think cybertip should be able to add ANYTHING to a blacklist without both RCMP -AND- Judicial order. To allow one organization to act as police, judge, jury and digital executioner is absurd.

    It’s a good idea, but it needs to be implemented way way better, or we’re just setting up the national framework for orwellian censorship.

    I’ll give you a really good net neutrality related edge-case where-in ISP’s have censored unsavory but otherwise legal Canadian content. MCI vs Epifora. Investigated-but-found-legal, then censored, by the ISPs.

    ISPs are crappy at censorship, and even if they put together an arms length project to carry out said censorship; they’re still going to suck at it.

    I don’t think they should publish a list of sites blocked to the general public, however, the information MUST be accessible under PIPEDA/FIA request. The information must be publically accessible, but that doesnt mean the data must be easy to access or even in the format of a directory. We clearly don’t want to publish a list like this, but we must balance that with the needs of transparency. Let the academics, law makers etc who have a valid reason for looking at the data have full access to said data. Keeping it top-secret guarantees orwellian abuse and we might as well move to china.

  37. Darryl Moore says:

    Why NOT publish lists????
    Kevin said: “We clearly don’t want to publish a list like this” which echos what Michael said earlier. Pleeeease somebody explain this to me. It is anything but clear in my mind. If the sites are blocked then what possible harm can come of publishing their URLs???? If the harm to Canadians is low to nil, as it certainly appears to me then what is the justification for not publishing them??

  38. Michael, you’re not listening
    “…arguments that people should be entitled to choose for themselves about whether they access the blocked content are simply wrong. Accessing this content is illegal and this is not a choice that Canadians are allowed to make under the Criminal Code.”

    Then all those “millions” of Canadians who have accidentally stumbled on one of the “millions” of child porn sites all need to be arrested?

    “Those that argue that there is no child pornography problem are also wrong. Over the past four years, the work of cybertip.ca has led to 22 arrests and the shutting down of 1,700 websites. There have been no allegations that cybertip.ca has targeted anything other than Internet-based child pornography”

    I’m alleging it. So are the others posting here. And you have only Cybertips’ word that we are all wrong and cybertips is right.

    “Claims that the law can currently address this issue by taking down child pornography sites are also wrong – Canadian-based sites can be targeted, but given that accessing such content is also unlawful, Canadian law cannot deal with child pornography hosted outside the country.”

    Now you’re just being dense. What country will not prosecute a child porn site once we advise them of it? And in most of those countries, the penalties are much harsher than in ours.

    “…the ISPs have no input into the content of the list and have undertaken to not maintain a record of those customers that try to access blocked sites … the ISPs themselves would strongly object (and likely drop the program) as it would raise potential regulatory concerns, and cybertip.ca would jeopardize its government and private sector support”

    So are the ISPs responsible or not? Your statements contradict.

  39. Howard Knopf says:

    Michael:

    I leave aside all of the very important issues about rule of law, bright lines, free speech and Star Chambers comparisons. I leave aside the eternally difficult question of what is clearly child pornography on the one hand or clearly art on the other (e.g. Nabakov, Mann and much the art of ancient Greece, Rome, the Renaissance and Baroque – though opinions and fig leaves come and go on even these examples). I leave aside whether this imitative will even work on a strictly technical basis. I leave aside the question of whether there is some politics involved here.

    But I do have a question or two, which are a sort of flip on Godwin’s law as cited by Felten who was earlier cited by Cory that “As a copyright policy discussion grows longer, the probability of pornography being invoked approaches one.”

    In this case, it might well be “As a pornography discussion grows longer, the probability of copyright being invoked approaches one.”

    You say that there will be a “a respected, non-partisan, government-approved body charged with identifying sites and active participation of law enforcement before any sites are added to the block list.” You also say that “Moreover, the ISPs have no input into the content of the list….”

    Doesn’t this sound like the ISPs have just bought into or fallen into a barely laundered version of the principle of “notice and takedown”?

    And – what if some zealous “respected” body of major copyright owners and collectives should someday get themselves some sort of mandate from a supportive Government department to provide a secret block list of sites that “induce” “illegal” copyright infringement, “theft”, and “piracy”? They would surely argue that Canadians have no right to engage in such activity or access such sites – and Canadians shouldn’t even know that such evil and “illegal” sites exist. As you can imagine, they might even get a grant for doing such work.

    A stretch? Maybe. Impossible? By no means.

    The possible must be viewed as the probable when it comes to making bad policy choices. Both the USA and Canada have put statutory minimum damages into their copyright laws. Until about three or so years ago, nobody ever thought this mechanism would be used against ordinary people, let alone children and dead grandmothers. Now there are systematic threats of outright ruin and settlements routinely of more than USD $5,000. Now, more than 20,000 American families have been victimized by these provisions in the law and this would be happening here in Canada if we hadn’t taken a stand and insisted that ISPs can only disclose their subscriber’s identity if a real judge in a real court is satisfied that there is a sufficiently strong case and adequate, real non-hearsay evidence. The real courts and real judges confirmed this protection. I will always be proud to have fought for it.

    I even know of a case where a well established (many in Government would say “respected”) Canadian trade association tried (extra-judicially and, happily, unsuccessfully) to get a certain brave law professor’s weekly newspaper column shut down because of his provocative views on copyright law. Censorship, and even attempted censorship, as you well know, is very ugly.

    So – back to my questions. If the ISPs agree to what appears to be an extra-judicial “notice and takedown” regime at the behest of a “respected” body on this law and order issue involving child pornography, how can they deny the overall concept of “notice and takedown” at the behest of the next “respected” body of copyright owners, religious leaders, or other collective entity with some sort of quasi-official mandate who can appoint themselves as guardians of the public interest and hang their hat on some provision of the Criminal Code or other statute?

    This may be more than a slippery slope. It may be a precipice.

  40. Michael Geist says:

    Seeking Answers
    Ok – there have been many important concerns raised in the comments over the past several days. I don’t have complete answers for the transparency and accountability questions that have been raised by many people. That may be because Cybertip.ca and the ISPs haven’t disclosed the answers, or it may be because there are not good answers to be had. I’m going to ask some questions, though, and will report back with what I learn.

  41. Howard Knopf says:

    P4GEW
    One more point – on accidental access.

    The Criminal Code says:

    s. 163.1
    Accessing child pornography

    (4.1) Every person who accesses any child pornography is guilty of

    (a) an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years and to a minimum punishment of imprisonment for a term of forty-five days; or

    (b) an offence punishable on summary conviction and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding eighteen months and to a minimum punishment of imprisonment for a term of fourteen days.

    Interpretation

    (4.2) For the purposes of subsection (4.1), a person accesses child pornography who KNOWINGLY causes child pornography to be viewed by, or transmitted to, himself or herself.

    I’ve emphasized KNOWINGLY because it seems clear that truly accidental or inadvertent viewing would not be held to be illegal.

    Whereas, copyright infringement is in the process of becoming a “strict liability” offence in Australia.

    Howard Knopf

  42. I’ll be honest, when I read the original remarks; I must admit I thought it was somewhat out of character for you Michael. Those who have written in support of this measure seem to be speaking more with their heart than with their head. I certainly wouldn’t blame anyone for such – child pornography is detestable no matter how you look at it. However, I think many of those who object to these measures don’t object ‘why’, they object to the ‘how’.

    Let’s be clear here, if a person wanted to ‘physically import’ such images from outside the country, the government customs workers would be within their right to confiscate the material at the border. In many ways, this ban could be construed as having the same effect. The difference here is that there is a clear and defined border process that is government controlled, and subject to public review. The ‘cybertips’ operation seems to have a questionable origin (a ‘child protection’ agency from Manitoba?) yet its efforts will affect users from outside of their province. I would want to see/read that this ‘agency’ is federally run by an appropriate federal government ministry to overcome my objection here. Who really runs it? There seems to be a questionable lack of information in this regard.

    My second objection to this measure is fairly simplistic, but begs to be asked. If this is indeed a measure to prevent the viewing of child pornography, then why not just ban the viewing of images from the sites in question? To balance ‘free speech’, would it not be wise to allow the text to be seen so people can see that this is not a case of misguided censorship? With no pictures visible, this should not be an issue one would think. I agree with others when I am concerned that it would be very easy to paint with a very wide brush and ban other content that is not prohibited.

    Third in my objections is that this really does nothing to address the underlying abuse of children. To me this seems like we as a country are saying “Since this is happening outside of Canada we’re just going to put our hands over our eyes and say ‘la la la la la la’” – hoping it will go away. ‘Banning’ web sites will not do anything to help the children that are victimized by those who take such pictures. If this is indeed the goal of this blacklist, then it is founded on a false premise.

    My next objection echoes that of others, the concern of ‘prior restraint’. One of the things that we as a country try and limit, is the forcing of people to do things in a certain way – while claiming it serves the greater good. Heck, a person can sexually assault a child and get bail the same day – one could easily argue that bail should be denied in all cases of child abuse, but in this country innocence is assumed until proven otherwise. Let’s look at speed limits to take this further. While the speed limit can vary from a maximum of 100km/h to 110km/k in some areas, for the sake of discussion let’s say the limit is 100km/h across the board. For all intents and purposes, there is no legitimate reason for a person to exceed that speed on public roads. As such, could the government not require that speed limiting devices be mandatory in all vehicles sold? Since it’s not legal to exceed 100km/h, surely no one is harmed by limiting vehicle speed to that level. If anything, given the number of speed related deaths every year. thousands of lives would be saved. Yet we don’t do it, we rely on laws to govern our citizens, not imposed restrictions.

    Lastly, while some may try and suggest that the ‘slippery slope’ argument is fallacious in nature, I disagree. There was a good essay on this that I read some time ago, and it can be found at the link below:
    [ link ]

    So I’ll close with my opinion that while the intent of this action is good, the manner in which it is being executed is not. It’s a blunt measure that has no real impact on that which it purports to target. The site is listed as “Canada’s National Tipline for reporting the online sexual exploitation of children” – yet I fail to see how limiting our ability to see them will have any real impact on actual child . The abused children that are portrayed in such images will continue to be abused whether or not their images are actually seen by Canadians.

    The proposed measure won’t change that.

  43. Paul C. Bryan says:

    Michael:

    I admire your desire to disrupt the dissemination of child pornography, and I presume the exploitation of innocent children.

    As I have mentioned in my prior post, I believe it is folly to put our trust in an organization that has no accountability and transparency. I’m glad you do see this as an issue and are willing to investigate further. I look forward to hearing what you uncover.

    You have made a strong case in favour of Cleanfeed on the grounds that it protects innoncent surfers from inadvertently breaking the law by accessing child pornography.

    My reading of the law only makes *knowlingly* accessing such material an offence. In light of this, can you clarify your position? In your mind, is Cleanfeed intended to prevent those who *want* to break the law from actually doing so?

    Furthermore, you asserted that making the list available would be an offence. The best I could determine from my reading of the law is that making the material itself available is an offence. Could you clarify your position on this? Is furnishing a list of links tantamount to making the material itself available?

  44. Thank you, Michael
    \\\”Ok – there have been many important concerns raised in the comments over the past several days. I don\\\’t have complete answers for the transparency and accountability questions that have been raised by many people. That may be because Cybertip.ca and the ISPs haven\\\’t disclosed the answers, or it may be because there are not good answers to be had. I\\\’m going to ask some questions, though, and will report back with what I learn.\\\”

    Thank you, Michael, for agreeing to look into this further, instead of just accepting cybertips\\\’ blacklist as a good thing because it purports to fight a very bad thing.

    You may want to examine the UK experience with this measure. If the Google results for \\\”cleenfeed\\\” are any indication, the concerns raised here are justified. For example:

    [ link ]

    [ link ]

    [ link ]

    [ link ]

    [ link ]

    (Disclaimer: yes, I cherry-picked the above links. Please do your own research too.)

  45. Here are a few of the problems with the scheme that Mr. Geist is not seeing:

    1) It takes the law out of the courts’ hands. Whether something is child porn is a legal question. Whether a crime has been committed is a legal question. I submit that cybertip.ca is not a jury of our peers, and that it’s a bad idea to outsource the law to quasi-governmental private parties. How exactly does cybertip.ca work? Do they access URLs that are submitted to them? If so, they’re seeking out child pornography every day, in blatant violation of the law. Why should their judgment be substituted for that of a judge and jury?

    2) It creates an architecture of censorship. Once all URLs accessed by Canadians are being run through a secret censorship list before the request is allowed to go through, it’s easy to add URLs to that list. How will the list expand? Will ndp.ca end up on the list someday? How about the websites of activists who oppose some measure that Canada’s ISPs support? Here are some other nations with national internet censorship blacklists: China, Saudi Arabia, Iran….

    3) An appeals process to get off a secret blacklist? Come on now. The secrecy of the process virtually guarantees abuse, and it guarantees that no remedies will be possible when that abuse inevitably occurs. Just consider the process: a random foreign website is somehow notified that Canadians are being blocked from it, even though Canadians can’t get to it to do the notifying. This website researches the matter, pursues an appeals process in Canada… Put it this way. Suppose you discovered that michaelgeist.ca was banned in Mongolia, because michaelgeist.ca supposedly has child porn on it. You’re outraged, but would you appeal? How much would it cost you, in time and money, to make your website available to Mongolians?

    4) Previous examinations of blacklists that purport to contain “only kiddie porn” have shown they contain nothing of the sort. The list will be crowded with hundreds or thousands or millions of totally innocent websites. Those websites will not know they’re on the list, they won’t appeal, and their listings will never be removed.

    Mr. Geist, you need to rethink your support of this. I know the risks: you risk being accused of supporting child porn if you oppose this measure – which is a sad but real risk of anyone opposing any censorship measure. Nevertheless, anyone who supports the rule of law and general freedom of expression can’t reasonably get behind the idea that an unaccountable private entity should have the ability to control what content is available to Canadians.

  46. Just a quick other comment from the UK “CleanFeed” program:

    “Since Cleanfeed gives a “not found” error, people visiting the sites are going to assume that it was an error and probably retry at least once.”

    So in the UK implementation of this, a BANNED website looks exactly the same as a typoed URL or mistyped link – “404 Not Found”. For users, there is no way to distinguish between a BANNED website and a link that is simply broken in some way. Since no indication is given that the requested website is being intentionally banned, no users will ever complain. The program in the UK is implemented such that such that intentional censorship is completely indistinguishable from normal internet problems. Surely you understand the dangers inherent in such a scheme. Even in China, Saudi Arabia or Iran, banned websites are publicly indicated: a “This site is banned” webpage will be shown in place of the banned site.

  47. Darryl Moore says:

    Thin edge of the wedge
    So this time last year the Danes started blocking child pornography too. [ link ] Last month they started blocking allofmp3.com [ link ] . Next, I’m sure will be Bit Torrent sites. How long before they start blocking Michaelgeist.ca?

    No. No. Without strict accountability, you will never convince me that this is not the thin edge of the wedge. Are we really all that different from Denmark that this sort of thing will not happen here?

    Unfortunately I think the American’s “war-on-terror” has caused people to accept greater loss of freedom and privacy than they ever would have accepted before. While this is not the war we are talking about, the rational that is used is the same and is now familiar. “We need to suspend everybody rights to catch the bad guys.” “You don’t want the bad guys to win do you?” “You’re either with us or against us.”

    I really do hope Michael changes his view a lot on this issue as he has been a great asset so far in the fight to maintain democracy and freedom in this country. His stand on this issue seems so counter to everything else he supports.

  48. Darryl Moore says:

    blocking allofmp3.com
    Opps, I didn’t get the link right for blocking allofmp3.com
    here it is: [ link ]

  49. Put all the criminal stuff aside for a moment:

    ISP’s are private entity’s. Can somebody point out where a private entity such as an ISP or IAP has a duty in law to provide unfiltered internet access? If you run a website with web content, does an ISP owe a genuine duty of care to ensure that it’s customers can access your website? A web host provider might have such a duty if you remain within the bounds of your contract, but certanly not an ISP. If ISP’s choose to not link to a server, then that is all there is to it. Tough luck in a capitalist democracy, and apparently communist societies as well!

    I’m pretty sure that all ISP’s stipulate the internet service offering is provided “as is”, and they make no rep or warranty regarding content, and reserve the right to allow you to access to whatever traffic they deem to provide access to, provided their selection of content remains within the bounds of applicable human rights laws.

  50. Net Neutrality
    SensFan, the concept you are missing is the Common-Carrier designation. There are two really good reasons why ISPs must provide unfiltered access even though they are private companies.

    First, ISPs want to disclaim responsibility for what travels on their network. Basically the argument goes, if you can stop some of it, the only thing preventing you from stopping all of it, is money. Enough money and you could block all illegal content online. ISPs don’t want to spend the money, and we the people felt it was an undue burdeon to make ISPs police their networks, so we created the Common Carrier exemption, in return, we asked that they were hands-off and didnt interfere with any content, if they do interfere they are a publisher and are thus responsible for all traffic on the network. There are a few big cases coming to light were ISPs have probably violated common carrier status and it will be interesting to see how that plays out.

    The second reason, is that you, me and every Canadian paid to build these ISPs. Thats right your tax dollars heavily subsidized the creation of these companies. Heck we even granted a lot of them monopolies for decades in exchange for power in how they were run. Now, they’re private but they’re still based on decades of monopoly. We’ve built a 50,000 lb gorilla and are releasing it onto the world saying that anyone should be able to stop it. Well not quite. Further, the roads and streets on which these companies services operate are publically owned, and we attach certain things like non-interferance as the costs for using publically owned land. It’s the principle that if the land belongs to all Canadians, then all Canadians must have equal access to any services utilizing said land.

    Get it. They’re not private. They’re quasi-public, but now private for a bunch of public-inneficiency reasons. They’re still public utilities in my mind so long as they’re on public lands.

    The concept you’re asking about is called Net Neutrality; and its an issue many of us are asking to be enshrined even more strongly in law. The net belongs to Canadians, not telecoms. Don’t ever forget that.

  51. Random Thoughts
    Here’s a thought (albeit not all of them are mine)

    What about “apparent” child porn? By that I mean porn that has models that are over 18 years of age but with a little bit of make up and a school girl uniform they become the classmate you never had at the age of 16. Will that particular fetish now be considered illegal? Will it put Canadian girls that look young out of a legitimate line of work? Can this open a whole range of racism charges by peoples of different races? (for example many Asian women usually look younger than they are to Western eyes, could they claim that Cybertip is keeping them from earning money in the fetish/porn modeling industry?)

    Also what about model release forms? Will pornographic websites that don’t have “Canadian approved” (read Cybertip approved) model release forms now be considered child porn since we can’t “legally” determine the model’s age?

    Perhaps I’m way off on these thoughts but they kind of got stuck in my head.

  52. Nonsense on the common carrier business, that is a copyright infringement exemption.

    Someone cite some legal authority for the proposition that an ISP has a legal duty to carry any particular content.

  53. Darryl Moore says:

    I don’t care for a duty of care
    Nonsense also to a legal requirement for duty of care. Frankly I don’t care if what the ISPs are trying to do here is legal or not. Being legal does not make it right.

    As the Internet becomes more and more ingrained into our daily lives it will become more and more important that its infrastructure is absolutely non-bias towards the content that it carries. That is Michael’s opinion with regard to tiered Internet service, and it is just as applicable here. Cybertips, not being any sort of accountable judicial body itself, is, from my perspective, nothing more then an arms length extension of the ISPs. As such, any censoring it does is just as objectionable as the ISPs doing for themselves.

    It is a matter of voicing our concern and trying to ensure that the Net is as unbias as possible. Not because of any legal requirement, though that would be nice, but because that is the kind of Internet we want.

    I’m all for stamping out child pornography, but this is not the way to do it.

  54. Grey areas…
    I finally recalled a story I read in WIRED magazine many years ago. Not surprizingly, they still have the story available online. The article is called “Girl Model Sites Crossing Line?” [ link ]

    I can’t help but wonder how those sites would fit into this new ‘filtering’ scheme by cybertips. It should be noted that none of the sites mentioned in the WIRED article have any ‘naked’ models – as such there is no risk that anyone here will stumble across an illegal site.

    This is a perfect test case of ‘where do you draw the line’? The sites mentioned have no real redeeming social values, and one could argue that it does ‘exploit’ children to a certain degree. However, does this mean the content should be banned?

  55. Sens, You’re right, there is a copyright exemption in the copyright act. Where you’re wrong is in the telecommunications act.

    Section 27(2):

    No Canadian carrier shall, in relation to the provision of a telecommunications service or the charging of a rate for it, unjustly discriminate or give an undue or unreasonable preference toward any person, including itself, or subject any person to an undue or unreasonable disadvantage.

    This is also the fight we’ve been getting with the CRTC to actually create a proper net neutrality law. They always tap the 27(2) sign, and say it already exists.

    So no, common-carrier exemptions don’t just apply to copyright, they apply to the very act of being a common carrier.

  56. Wrong citation
    Kevin -
    Section 27(2) of the Telecom Act likely doesn’t apply here. It is unclear that there is a preference being given (they are blocking for everyone), let alone an undue preference (the CRTC has recent findings where simply discriminating or showing a preference is not enough. It has to be an ‘unjust discrimination’ or an ‘undue or unreasonable preference’.

    The proper citation is Section 36: Except where the Commission approves otherwise, a Canadian carrier shall not control the content or influence the meaning or purpose of telecommunications carried by it for the public.

    Both these provisions apply to carriers only (the cablecos and telcos are carriers – many smaller and all foreign owned ISPs are not covered).

  57. The 27(2) section does apply. Take a look at many of the more recent crtc decisions. This part actually gets a lot more play than the later Section 36.

    Regardless, Section 36, also forms part of what would be commonly known as ‘the common-carrier exemption’.

    This rule is even more pronounced in the U.S. where they dont define an ISP as specifically a carrier and even some websites claim common-carrier content exemption so they are not responsible for moderation.

    What we can all agree upon is that there is unclear at best legislation and that a distinct act – a net neutrality act – needs to clarify these rules, and extend them to not just carriers but also to websites, and smaller ISPs. A policy of non-interferance and non-discrimination is key.

    As for ‘unjust discrimination’ we’re talking about cases like MCI vs Epifora, which while they [MCI] claim they violate their terms-of-service many would claim that they don’t have the right to create unjustly discriminatory ToS under section 27(2). Since Epifora was investigate-but-found-to-be-legal, this shows that the dicrimination was based on the exercise of free speech rights that were entirely legal and should not be discriminated against. Note Epifora’s claim is that their sites are for ‘Minor attracted adults’ an identifiable group.

    I’d be very interested to see this particular case tried under section 27(2) as a precident case for net neutrality.

    The recent actions by hostonfibre ['a personal, moral judgement'] would also serve to violate section 27(2) in my mind and should likewise be tested in court.

    Bottom line is either way 27(2) or Section 36, there is common-carrier controls in Canada, that do control what carriers do. So the original question posed by Sens is complete? no?

  58. I guess the bottom line is: who do we direct all our complaints to to get this awful thing stopped?

    Neither the government(s), the police nor the ISPs are accepting responsibility for this practice, though all are participating in it to some degree. The courts won’t get involved unless a group of us file suit. (And I can imagine the headlines: “SICKOS SUE TO SAVE CHILD PORN SITES!”

    The only party we have to complain to is cybertips.ca, and their membership is a secret.

  59. You write to the CRTC. File a complaint [[ link ]] and ask them to review the announcement of plans by the carriers to block internet content contrary to Section 36 of the Telecom Act.

    Identify the issues: who determines what gets blocked; how content gets on the list; how appeals are heard, etc. It may lead to a more complete public proceeding.

  60. No, you don’t file a complaint with the CRTC.
    [ link ]

    “The CRTC does not regulate rates, quality of service issues or business practices for Internet Service Providers. The market is competitive and consumers should shop around to find the one that most suits their needs and budget. Consumers experiencing difficulties should contact their service providers quickly to resolve the problem”

    …and…

    “Illegal actions by Internet Service Providers

    Illegal actions fall under the Criminal Code of Canada or other federal statutes. Consumers concerned about possible illegal actions should contact the appropriate enforcement authorities.”

    So complaints should be made directly to the ISP, except where the ISP is acting illegally, in which case complaints should be made to the police.

    But since the ISPs and the police are both implicated in any such complaint, there is little chance that the complaint ould get any merit from either party.

  61. The reference you gave is only a partial answer. CRTC doesn\’t regulate garden variety ISPs. They are resellers and are not covered by the Telecom Act.

    But the CRTC does continue to regulate precisely all of the ISPs that agreed to implement Cleanfeed – they are all Canadian carriers that continue to be subject to S.36, even though the CRTC does not regulate their prices.

    Go ahead and fill out the form, if you really want to take some action beyond complaining on Michael\’s blog.

  62. Diane – the quote you gave: “Illegal actions fall under the Criminal Code of Canada or other federal statutes. Consumers concerned about possible illegal actions should contact the appropriate enforcement authorities.”

    Under the statutes, the CRTC is the enforcement authority for violations of the Telecom Act and unless the CRTC has given prior authorization, implementation of Cleanfeed by a carrier represents a likely violation of S.36

  63. An anonymous poster wrote:

    \”Diane – the quote you gave: \”Illegal actions fall under the Criminal Code of Canada or other federal statutes. Consumers concerned about possible illegal actions should contact the appropriate enforcement authorities.\”

    Under the statutes, the CRTC is the enforcement authority for violations of the Telecom Act and unless the CRTC has given prior authorization, implementation of Cleanfeed by a carrier represents a likely violation of S.36\”

    That quote is from the CRTC\’s own site, and you\’ll find it under the link I provided. The CRTC make it quite clear on their that they consider their mandate regarding ISPs to not extend to issues of content. So once again, there is no clear chain of responsibility for cybertips\’ actions, nor for appealing them.

  64. Diane – I know what is on the CRTC website. I also know what the difference is between ISP forbearance and the forms of regulation that still apply to these particular ISPs because they are carriers. Being carriers is the difference – and why S.36 still applies, even for internet traffic.

    You clearly don’t want to try. That is your business. But if you won’t even try, I have little sympathy for your griping about ‘no clear chain of responsibility’.

  65. The reference you gave is only a partial answer. CRTC does not regulate garden variety ISPs. They are resellers and are not covered by the Telecom Act.

    But the CRTC does continue to regulate precisely all of the ISPs that agreed to implement Cleanfeed – they are all Canadian carriers that continue to be subject to S.36, even though the CRTC does not regulate their prices.

    Go ahead and fill out the form, if you really want to take some action beyond complaining on this blog. Let them tell you they won’t address this issue – they are required, by the Telecom Act, to police the availability of all content – regardless of the nature of the content – unless they explicitly authorize otherwise.

    I’m not going to file it for you – but this is the end of the free advice.

  66. Darryl Moore says:

    No sex, no nudity, but still porn??
    Here is a story of an American photographer who has been charged by US Authorities with being a child pornographer.
    [ link ]

    From the article: “In a federal indictment announced this week, the U.S. Department of Justice accused Pierson, 43, of being a child pornographer–even though even prosecutors acknowledge there’s no evidence he has ever taken a single photograph of an unclothed minor. Rather, they argue, his models struck poses that were illegally provocative.”

    Huh?!?!, This is a perfect example of why any lack of transparency to the process of censoring websites must be avoided. What is to stop Cybertips.ca using a similar cryteria in their assessments?

    I’d be curious to here how Michael might relate this particular case to this Cybertips/ISP censoring project.

    Michael?…

  67. *Of course* the CRTC is responsible, just as the police are responsible for enforcing my constitutional rights, just as the ISPs are responsible for providing access regardless of content, etc. etc.

    But forcing any of those parties to act on their responsibilities is another matter, and any complaints I file on the subject will carry as much weight with the CRTC as your “free advice” carries with anyone here.

    Oh, and it’s been my experience that free advice is worth exactly what one pays for it.

  68. Secretly Public List
    Please excuse if this has been mentioned before in these comments, as I thought of this half-way through reading them:

    Why not make the list publicly accessible in a way that prevents the public actually knowing whats on the list? Such as being able to file a request to see if something specific is blocked. This prevents access to the list, while maintaining accountability to (what i think) is an almost \\\’acceptable\\\’ level.

    Also, making it a requirement to go through \\\’acceptable\\\’ (which, in my mind, would be scanning an entire site for a method of contact, or contacting the owner of the domain) effort to contact the author of disputed content would also aid in accountability.

    And, of course, the standards by which things are judged (and by which things like my use of the word \\\’acceptable\\\’ above are defined) should be made public.

    In my mind, it matters not where accountability lays. It matters that accountability exists. Having an organization censor anything, even with 100% accuracy of censoring illegal material, is a bad thing without accountability in my humble opinion.

    Now, I personally disagree with the whole thing, as it could allow for future censorship of the web on such a level. Possibly for a reason less in the public interest and desire.

  69. Common Sense says:

    Why not arrest whoever is running sites
    Wouldn’t it make sense to just track down whoever runs each site, put them on trial and throw them in jail and shut the actual sites down and physically destroy the content??? Then subpoena access records to the sites, put active users on trial and throw them in jail and destroy any of their saved content. I bet that would be a lot more effective and would leave the responsibility to a judicial due process than try to administer some list that is just a band aid on a much bigger and serious problem.

  70. Mark Goldberg says:

    Arrest only work for Canadian Content
    The ‘Common Sense’ suggestion only works for content hosted or controlled by Canadians. That is already being done.

    Project Cleanfeed is to deal with the rest of the content being hosted beyond the reach of Canadian law enforcement.

  71. Common Sense says:

    Does Interpol Exist?
    I realize it’s easiest for Canadian Law Enforcement to arrest people within their juristiction – but is there no means to work with other police departments to bring these people to justice in their own countries?

  72. Dan in Texas says:

    This all smells like Bush patriot Act mentality, I thiough you folks up there were above such simple nonsense.
    It\’s funny how the original premise presupposes that only child porn will be blocked therefore there is no free speech issue, yet there appears to be an extensive review procedure for sites that maybe have been wrongfully blocked.
    This is so much like the US domestic wiretapping that is supposed to only target terrorist and their known associates while admittedly, thousands of calls are intercepted. An optomist might say that our rights are intact and there are just thousands of terrorist in the US.

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  74. the FAQ:

    [ link ]

    There is no “slippery slope”. They block content that involves prepubesent children being posed and abused. Not that homemade porn you have from back in highschool.

    Alot of this stuff comes from foriegn paysites, and preventing pedophiles from using those sites decreases the demand , which means less child pornography is being produced, which means fewer

    cybertips forwards everything to the appropriate authorities, this is not just turning a blind eye.

    I’m not going to regurgitate the entire FAQ, but seriously, this is a good thing.

    If your canadian and hate censorship, make fun of Richard Warman and laugh at the libel suit he tries to throw at you. seriously, he’s probably going to find this comment by google searching his name for the fifth millionth time.

    Richard Warman has sex with his own mother, and spends his time impersonating women and fighting full-of-shit internet-nazis instead of helping cybertips stop pictures of child rape because he’s all about the sex with little boys.

    See! If i had to give up defamation or molestation, i would never touch that paperboy again. Also I don’t proof-read internet anonymous comments, so please don’t discredit this simply because of gramatic and spelling errors, cause that’s pretty lame.

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