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Child Porn Blacklist Sparks Free Speech Debate

For the first time, Finnish authorities are trying to censor web sites that contain child pornography. This has sparked an outcry among free speech advocates, who say that blocking access does nothing to curb child porn and interferes with legitimate websites.

For the past year, the National Bureau of Investigation has been trying to clamp down on child pornography websites by searching through suspicious URLs.

"We go through all the sites that we get from foreign police, organisations and private citizens," says NBI commissioner Lars Henriksson. "We go through each website that we're presented with, and if it contains illegal material then it ends up on the blacklist."

Once a webpage is blacklisted, those trying to reach the site are directed to a police filter site instead of the one they were aiming for.

The project hinges on the voluntary participation of network providers, who agree to put the filters in place. Network provider Sonera, for example, plans to join the effort in March.

Free Speech Advocates Cry Foul

This is the first time that movement on the internet is being restricted in Finland. It's sparked an outcry from free speech advocates, who say the blacklist is ineffective and even blocks access to perfectly innocent sites.

"Most child porn circulates on secret networks that don't show up the list at all," says the chairman of the civil rights organisation Electric Frontier Finland, Tapani Tarvainen. "The filter has blocked a search engine, a Japanese doll shop, a Thai chat room, and other perfectly innocent sites."

But police say that's just not possible. They argue that they review all the websites, and only block criminal material. According to police, the censorship list is necessary, because pornographic photos circulating on the net can cause never-ending trauma for victims.

Nonetheless, some 20 complaints have already been filed against the police censorship action.

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