The secrecy is also seen as problematic. While acknowledging that making block lists public would be to provide a goldmine of potentially illegal material to sex offenders and the inquisitive alike, the current situation offends against natural justice. In the case of our own IWF, not only is the list secret, but website owners will not be told officially when their sites are added to the list.
For the sake of natural justice, the argument continues, some mechanism for independent review of the list needs to be put in place without compromising the overall objective of blocking access to illegal material. The other problem with "secret" lists is that they tend to be leaked – and when they are, any mistakes quickly become ammunition against the entire process.
As far as we are aware, the only major blocklist that has not yet been leaked in full or in part, is the one belonging to our very own IWF.
El Reg has already reported on oddities found in the (leaked) Danish and Romanian blocklists. Although it is outside the EU’s jurisdiction, the Thailand block list is understood to include hundreds of YouTube videos (including Hillary Clinton's campaign videos) as well as blogs, cartoons, Charlie Chaplin videos and an article in the Economist magazine banned for criticising the Thai king.
In the last six months, Vodafone put in place a new filtering service for its Czech customers, which was publicised as blocking access to dangerous content such as "Child pornography and promotion of racism". Unfortunately, the blocklist also appeared to have included links that included a Facebook group dedicated to opposing internet censorship, a business directory and a transportation site.
The blame for this own goal has been laid at the doors of the IWF, who were alleged to have provided the URLs for the blocklist. Still, a spokeswoman for the IWF was adamant in denying any IWF involvement. She said that "the claim that the list in question comes from the IWF is simply not true".
Undoubtedly, 2009 is going to be the year of the internet filter. It is likely that many more governments will go down the route now being proposed in Belgium - and much argument will be needed before a compromise is achieved that succeeds in protecting both vulnerable individuals and internet freedom. ®