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Is overblocking defamatory? - Bela Lugosi's Dead, Jim
July 22nd, 2013
08:39 am
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Is overblocking defamatory?

If a user of an ISP tries to visit a website controlled by an identifiable legal person, which does not contain any pornography, but the ISP instead serves them a block page informing them that the website does contain pornography, has the person controlling the website been libeled by the ISP? (All three parties located in the UK.)

(If you think Cameron's latest wheeze won't lead to overblocking then you haven't been paying attention to the existing implementations.)

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From:armb
Date:July 22nd, 2013 08:02 am (UTC)
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My guess: "no, but only because the government will introduce a clause saying it doesn't count so long as the ISPs are acting in good faith to comply with legislation".
(But the block page will probably hedge saying something like "our filter system indicates the page is likely to contain pornography" rather than "does contain", with a link to fine print explaining that false positives are inevitable . Or maybe you will just get a connection failure.)

But child pornography is already blocked, and I would be surprised if wrongfully accusing someone of hosting child pornography wasn't libel. I assume the much smaller volume means overblocking isn't currently a problem there. (And looking at the IWF FAQ, they don't block UK sites (they get them taken down).)
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From:ewx
Date:July 22nd, 2013 08:06 am (UTC)
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I think the IWF usually have a human in the loop, too, so the risk of overblocking is much lower anyway.
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From:armb
Date:July 23rd, 2013 03:49 pm (UTC)
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I think they always have a human in the loop, but that won't scale.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_Watch_Foundation_and_Wikipedia is the only incident of IWF overblocking I've heard of, but it's not something I've been looking out for.

Presumably any new system will be more similar to the existing mobile internet blocks:
https://www.openrightsgroup.org/blog/2011/how-does-mobile-internet-filtering-work
http://www.pcpro.co.uk/features/382633/mobile-web-blocking-what-it-reveals-about-porn-filtering-plans
From:stephdairy
Date:July 22nd, 2013 08:12 am (UTC)
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I don't think the Government are planning to legislate, just to bully the big ISPs into complying.

(S)
From:stephdairy
Date:July 22nd, 2013 08:11 am (UTC)
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Hm. Does a displaying a block page to an individual user count as publication?

If it does, I would say there has been a libel, at least as long as the website author has a reputation in England and that reputation would be damaged by the claim that the website contains pornography.

(S)
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From:aldabra
Date:July 22nd, 2013 08:41 am (UTC)
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They could just phrase it "The Government requires that we do not show you these pages. Here is a link to the Government's rationale." That's what I would do. Especially as it makes it clear who you should complain to, i.e., not me.
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From:naath
Date:July 22nd, 2013 10:14 am (UTC)
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I don't think that's true at all.

If the page *is* pornography and the page-owner wants people to able to see their porn then they have a problem with the government; if the page *is not* pornography then the page-owner has a problem with the ISP('s software) which has incorrectly classified their page.
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From:aldabra
Date:July 22nd, 2013 10:25 am (UTC)
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I think the searcher has a problem with the Government if they can't see things they believe not to be porn.

But my wording specifically doesn't say that you can't see it because it's porn. The Government is going to have to specify how the ISPs can meet their obligations under whatever this law turns out to be (is google meant to check every gmail attachment, for example?), since it's not obvious what technology can block all and only what they want to be blocked, and that lets the ISP say they are blocking according to Government requirements. Presumably this is going to boil down to a list of words Cameron can't say on the BBC which we're not allowed to google for.
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From:gerald_duck
Date:July 22nd, 2013 11:06 am (UTC)
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What are they planning to do about https, I wonder?

As ever, I wonder if the government has even the slightest inkling of how technology works.

Also, as ever, I wonder what Julian has to say.
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From:geekette8
Date:July 22nd, 2013 12:06 pm (UTC)
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I don't think you have to wonder much on your first or second questions.

On your third: "There is a single entendre, but I don't know about a triple one." Oh - different Julian :-)
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From:gerald_duck
Date:July 22nd, 2013 01:01 pm (UTC)
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Next preposterously tricky issue I bet they've barely considered: what about wireless hotspots? Who chooses whether or not those filter porn?

What about BT Fon? Does BT even have the technology to apply different filters to someone's own internet connection and the Fon service provided via their broadband?
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From:ewx
Date:July 22nd, 2013 01:25 pm (UTC)
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Given the conceptually appalling approach existing filters take to TLS, I really hope the answer involves heads in sands.
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From:armb
Date:July 23rd, 2013 03:52 pm (UTC)
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"Here, accept this root CA certificate so we can intercept your traffic and send it to the NSA. Because otherwise the terrorists and child pornographers have won."
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From:ptc24
Date:July 22nd, 2013 05:46 pm (UTC)
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If the resultant libel suit didn't take long to settle, would it be a slight case of overblocking?
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From:armb
Date:July 24th, 2013 11:39 am (UTC)
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And in related news, is it libel if you accuse someone of sponsoring hacking of your website because they pointed out it had been hacked: http://www.ministryoftruth.me.uk/2013/07/24/cameron-porn-advisors-website-hacked-threatenslibels-blogger/
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