The most critical concerns regarding the regulatory strategies revolve around the fundamental freedoms of expression and the right to personal autonomy which includes interference with a user’s right to the Internet. There is also the generic fear of the Internet being covered by political censorship. The creation of regulatory bodies and their mechanisms slowly encroached upon several Member States in the EU (France, Italy, UK, etc.) and sporadically across the world (Middle East, Australia, China, etc) and inevitably led blocking of different types of content (also known as ‘mission creep’). This invoked a fear amongst members of society especially those concerned with safeguarding their fundamental rights, and this led to the creation of several anti-censorship organisations. Having researched these organisations, there are a number of important issues that have been proposed.
Firstly, there is the argument of overblocking and underblocking caused by blocking and filtering mechanisms.
The reason the blocking strategy is so controversial in its application is because, on the Internet, there may be more than 50 websites that share the same IP address and it is technically impossible for an ISP to determine what content is held on domain names assigned to a specific IP address. Therefore, when the ISPs had to comply with the law, it resulted in a rather large number of blocking of innocent content on websites. BT’s Cleanfeed system apparently uses URL/IP blocking to prevent access to the list of sites identified on the IWF’s block list.
An analogy can be drawn in the incident of Steve Marshall (an English travel agent living in Spain) and his commercial websites aimed at Italian and French tourists. His domain names had been put on the US Treasury Department blacklist and were registered on an American DNS host, who therefore shutdown the sites. He was not notified of the shutdown and neither could he retrieve the domain names. The incident illustrates one of the many cases of overblocking and also begs the question as to the accountability of ISPs/DNS hosts that act on impulse.
On the other hand, filtering tools find great difficulty in trying to distinguish innocent content from harmful/illegal content especially in user-generated web content (Web 2.0). This results in underblocking where regulators try to play it safe or overblocking where too much ‘good’ content is blocked. In a research conducted by the Safer Internet Plus programme (SIP-BENCH) dealing with filtering software, the trend lines showed a drastic change from 80% underblocking in 2006 to 90% overblocking in 2008. This is largely due to the filtering tools not being able to keep up with the evolution of the Internet.
The SmartFilter software (now owned by McAfee) is widely used by corporations and governments. It claims to provide the industry’s most comprehensive and proven database of forbidden URLs . In a study conducted by Seth Finkelstein , who wrote a software to...