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Child Abuse Images and Cleanfeeds: Assessing Internet Blocking Systems

T. J. McIntyre

UCD Sutherland School of Law

July 23, 2011


One of the most important trends in internet governance in recent years has been the growth of internet blocking as a policy tool, to the point where it is increasingly becoming a global norm. This is most obvious in states such as China where blocking is used to suppress political speech; however, in the last decade blocking has also become more common in democracies, usually as part of attempts to limit the availability of child abuse images. Numerous governments have therefore settled on blocking as their “primary solution” towards preventing such images from being distributed.

Child abuse image blocking has, however, been extremely controversial within the academic, civil liberties and technical communities. Why have these systems been so controversial? Two lines of criticism can be identified, which might be termed the practical and the principled. The practical argument claims that blocking is ineffective, with ill-defined goals and easily evaded by widely available circumvention technologies. The principled argument, on the other hand, is that blocking systems undermine the norms associated with freedom of expression in democratic societies.

This chapter introduces and evaluates these claims by examining three prominent examples of child abuse image blocking – the United Kingdom Internet Watch Foundation Child Abuse Image Content list, the European Union sponsored CIRCAMP system and United States hash value systems. It discusses the operation of each and the extent to which the critics’ concerns are borne out. It concludes by considering the lessons which might be learned for proposals to extend blocking to other types of content.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 29

Keywords: internet, blocking, filtering, censorship, child abuse images, child pornography, freedom of expression

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Date posted: July 24, 2011 ; Last revised: May 24, 2014

Suggested Citation

McIntyre, T. J., Child Abuse Images and Cleanfeeds: Assessing Internet Blocking Systems (July 23, 2011). RESEARCH HANDBOOK ON GOVERNANCE OF THE INTERNET, Ian Brown, ed., Edward Elgar, 2012. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1893667

Contact Information

T. J. McIntyre (Contact Author)
UCD Sutherland School of Law ( email )
University College Dublin
Dublin 4

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