and the Finnish Internet censorship

About the site is run by Matti Nikki <> to participate in the discussion of Internet censorship, child porn on the internet and the problems related to these things. Nearly everything is written in Finnish with a few pages in English when I've wanted to target it to a larger audience. My primary purpose has been to provide information and knowledge about the subject matter from my own point of view. It was my concern that all the factual information available was from childs' rights organizations and this information tended to be biased and overly supportive towards censorship.

I started the site back in december 2005 with only one article online, outlining what I knew about Internet censorship and it would and wouldn't apply to child porn distribution. It has been my belief that censorship isn't any kind of solution to child porn, and I actually believe it'll only worsen the situation as it'll give a reason for the people involved to tighten their security and anonymity.

Over the years I've covered a bunch of issues around the subject matter, and lately I've been writing almost daily about the Internet censorship since it unfortunately was finally implemented in Finland. One of the first things I did was to publish a list of a few hundred censored sites.

Update 2008-02-17: I said above "one of the first things", I meant after the censorship was activated. Before this, I've written my opinions about why the censorship doesn't work and what should be done instead of it to fight the distribution of child porn online. Now, since I've seen some people thinking I published a list of child porn sites, I'd like to mention that nearly none of the sites on the child porn list seem to contain child porn. I certainly would not have published the full list had I considered it accurate!

Update 2009-03-23: It's over a year since I wrote this text and some things have happened. Most importantly the criminal investigation regarding the portions of the Finnish blacklist I published is over and the prosecutor decided there'll be no charges based on lack of evidence. However, I'm still on the secret list and the police was quick to comment that the blacklist and the criminal side are two completely different things. So, Finland enjoys blocking sites that have been investigated and freed of charges. While not being charged would normally be a great thing for anyone suspected of a crime, in my case it means I didn't get this one chance to prove my innocence - guilty until proven innocent.

Update 2009-06-20: Since people are still reading this article, I'd like to also mentioned I complained to the administrative court about police refusing to remove my site from the blacklist. The court decided that I have no right to complain so they wouldn't take the case at all. Obviously I'm complaining about that decision as well so it's going to the supreme administrative court now. However, so far it looks like police's acts of censorship are absolute and cannot be challenged through the system.

About the censorship

The Internet censorship was being planned for years, and apparently three successive Ministers of Communications have been supportive to the Internet Censorship until it was finally implemented. When the ministry asked for statements about the planned censorship law from various parties, they were told by the Faculty of Law of the University of Turku that the censorship would be against The Constitution of Finland. Despite this, the ministry insisted there were no legal problems and that the censorship would be implemented.

The Ministry of Telecommunications has ordered and published some investigations about the legal possibility of censorship, and made its own interpretations of what these investigations say. For example a document that goes by the name "Railaksen Selvitys" and dated 2005-12-16 lists several critical problems and unanswered questions regarding the censorship. These problems are listed in the very beginning of the document and include things like effectiveness of the filtering solutions, the problem of collateral damage when censorship affects more material than it should, freedom of speech, what kind of crimes the censorship should exactly target, etc. Most of these went unanswered and the problems are seen with the current implementation of the censorship. Some of the issues were only addressed partially, for example the freedom of speech regarding reception of illegal material was touched but the police has now been found censoring even sites that do not contain illegal material themselves. What is being practiced now isn't what was planned.

Apparently the censorship had already been decided to be implemented even before the legality of the censorship had been touched at all. In the beginning of the resulting paper from the above mentioned investigation it's stated that "A decision of principle has been made to take action against distribution of child porn over telecommunication networks". Apparently the ministry had told the law firm that they will implement the censorship no matter what, and requested a paper to support it and to interpret the law in a way to make it look legal. Where this wasn't possible, the paper suggested what laws would be the easiest to change. From this point of view, it makes sense that the investigation would conclude that the censorship can be implemented.

The secret censorship list

Starting from when the Internet censorship was found to be active, I've been releasing lists of the censored domains. It is my firm belief that these lists should be public so that anyone could make sure the list isn't being abused. I found that majority of the sites on the list were censored for wrong reasons, making the censorship illegal even if its planned and intended use would somehow be considered legal.

The police has shown no interest in the release of these lists and I haven't been asked to remove the lists from my site. I've discussed the legality of releasing the list on IRC chat, but the only concern anyone saw was the requirement of secrecy. The law declares the list of censored sites secret, but effectively this means it's illegal to publish by those who have been given access to see it. I haven't received the list from police directly, and thus obtaining it by scanning through a large amoung of domain names is not illegal and I have no obligation whatsoever to keep it secret.

The situation changed when I challenged the police about a huge amount of sites on the list which apparently contained no child porn and were mere traffic trading sites for legal porn sites. The police responded by telling that sites containing links to other child porn sites are also added to the list of child porn sites. There is no basis for this in the law, since the law only says the police may give a list of actual child porn sites to teleoperators and "child porn site" is defined in the law to mean any transfer of child porn pictures through the internet. It is thus against the law to add sites without child porn images on them to the secret list. In response to this, and to protest what I believe was illegal action by police, I added a link to my list of censored sites to display all entries as clickable links. At the same time I released some critique about blocking sites which only link to illegal sites, and questioned how police finds such sites in the first place. I thought they only received tips about sites with child porn images, so how would they know what sites linked to them? I suggested that they might be surfing porn sites on their own as one possible explanation.

Censoring the critique

Once I had released my critique and made the change to turn the entries in my list to clickable links, my site was censored less than one week later in the next update of the censorship list. Police refuses to comment about it, but has given plenty of comments to several news reporters about my site having functioning links to child porn in it. They try to claim that this minor technical change changed the nature of my site and that it is now a "child porn portal".

I've tried to send mail to the police asking if I'm suspected of any crime now, and if I should come meet them for an interrogation. So far I've received no response, but in the comments they gave to a large newspaper Helsingin Sanomat, police says it's too early to estimate if any legal action will be taken against me. Apparently it wasn't too early to censor my site, though, and I interpret this to mean the decision to censor my site came before they even considered the possibility that anything there might be illegal.

It is clear, however, that censoring a Finnish site isn't what the censorship lists were intended to be used for. The law itself speaks of only censoring foreign child porn sites, and the law exists because foreign sites can be in countries where the police isn't responsive or laws are too lax. It is intended as a measure to prevent access to illegal sites when they cannot be closed down, and this doesn't apply to a site hosted in Finland and ran by Finnish person. The police tries to defend itself by claiming that the law speaks of measures to prevent access to foreign child porn sites, and says the list of censored domains I've published contains links to foreign child porn sites. They try to rationalize that this would allow them to place my site on the censorship list as well. I disagree with their interpretation of the law, as the list should only contain child porn sites.

Update 2008-02-15, 14:35: The police has finally asked me to arrange time for an interrogation. The request came from the violence crime unit, which also deals with sex crimes. I haven't yet gotten confirmation, but apparently they'll want to investigate me about aiding the distribution of child porn. Since there's now officially a police investigation, I won't be commenting much more about it until I've discussed the situation with a lawyer.

Defamation, aggravated defamation

The law requires that an announcement page is displayed every time an access is prevented to a blocked site. This page should contain information such as the reason why the access was denied. When people try to access my page they're presented a page which says that the blocked site is a child porn site, and that the images it contain are illegal to possess and distribute. It says these images are evidence of sex crimes towards children. Practically this means the police is wrongly accusing me of possession and distribution of child porn! In several discussion forums, people have already expressed their disgust towards my site and said I'd deserve to go to jail for hosting a child porn site. Some have even called me a child molester only because the police has listed my site as a child porn site. In news articles, the police has been quoted saying that my site could be considered a "child porn portal".

It should come as no surprise that I find these kind of accusations extremely offending. On my site, I've tried to present a view that resources would be better spent doing something that actually helps prevent child abuse instead of implementing censorship which doesn't save a single child. No criminals are caught with censorship, and actual child abuse has never needed the Internet. Even the distribution of child porn can be better prevented if resources are focused on international cooperation of police forces and tackling generic cyber crime. Commercial child porn operations tend to also involve spam, hijacking computers, money laundering, etc. In the future it's likely that child porn operations will also significantly feature identity theft, botnets, viruses, illegal black markets and other things. Fighting these things also helps the fight against the distribution of child porn, with concrete results.

Being presented as an administrator of an illegal child porn portal and as someone who is distributing child porn images from a web site is one of the most offending things I can imagine. Seriously speaking, people have been killed and murders have been attempted for mere suspicion of pedophilia, so these unfounded accusations could end up having severe consequences for me! Due to grave seriousness of these accusations, and the fact that police authority has been used to present these views to thousands of people who try to visit my site, I think it fits the definition of "aggravated defamation" as defined in the penal code of Finland.

Of course, I'm not alone in this. There are thousands of sites that are censored either as collateral damage or because they contain links the police doesn't like. For all of these pages, the censorship information page claims the blocked site contained child porn.

Indifferent silence of the police

The police doesn't bother answering all questions they've been asked. As a matter of the fact, the first month after the censorship began they didn't answer anything at all because they claim they accidently placed a wrong address on the block page. It took them a month to realize no mail was going through, and their mail servers are somehow configured in a way that bounce messages aren't sent for invalid addresses. This is against all reason and email specifications, and for a month everyone was thinking the police just didn't bother answering anything.

One of the questions they've sidestepped is the question of "gay porn" censorship. If you do a google search for "gay porn", the first four hits are censored as child porn even though the sites contain no illegal images! Many have questioned if the police has something against gay porn, and this is something they simply aren't answering at all.

Another important thing they haven't answered about is involvement of EU and the CIRCAMP project. The censorship page states: "The Child Sexual Abuse Anti-Distribution Filter (CSAADF) is part of the COSPOL Internet Related Child Abusive Material Project (CIRCAMP). The project is initiated by the European Police Chief Task Force - aimed at combating organized criminal groups behind commercial sexual exploitation of children." However, officially the censorship is voluntary action on behalf of the Internet operators, and not something that originates from the police in any way. Despite multiple requests, the police hasn't told anything about CIRCAMP or given names or addresses of people who could answer questions about it. The legal aspects of the current censorship system are based on the fact that police is only aiding ISPs in their own self-regulation, but this is in strong contradiction with the claim that the censorship is initiated by EU's police forces.

One newspaper quoted the head of Ministry of Social Affairs and Health claiming that the censorship system is already used to block access to money laundering sites in addition to child porn. The law only permits censoring of child porn and the police wants to give an impression that they're only censoring material that the law permits them to. However, when asked directly if they're censoring money laundering sites, there's no answer at all. Either they're hiding something, or they're just too indifferent to answer the question.

I asked these over a week ago, and since then they've answered other people's questions just fine, often the same day the questions were sent. They've likely read the questions and chosen not to answer them. Perhaps I'm asking too difficult things?

As the tip of the iceberg, I present you one of the questions and its answer from their official FAQ, translated from Finnish to English by me

Question: Can a site with no child pornography end up targeted by the blocking measures?

Answer: Notions of what is considered child porn differ. Because the age of consent in Finland [ed.note: for porn] is 18 years, the blocking measures can also include pages in which there are exclusively people who have passed the puberty. Additionally the blocking measures are also targeted towards sites which contain a functioning link to a page that contains child pornography. The blocklist contains only a fraction of all the pornography on the Internet anyway.

Can you believe it? I'm not making this up! Let's ignore their strange choice of words for a while now and concentrate on the last bit of it. It's as if the police is saying it doesn't matter that a few hundred legal sites are blocked because there are plenty of other sites on the internet to browse! I don't know who exactly has written these answers, but they certainly do originate from the police and are linked from the censorship announcement page.

Closing words

This page grew a little bit larger than I had originally intended, and it still feels like there's so much more to say. I hope this page still serves its purpose to outline the general purpose of my site and the recent developments regarding its censorship by the police. If you have any additional questions, don't hesitate to send me email.