The noble struggle for child porn

Posted by – January 16, 2008

There’s a legal principle in civilized countries that although certain kinds of speech (or communication) can be illegal and punishable, the state is not permitted to use censorship to prevent the appearance of such speech. This is essentially what freedom of speech means: private citizens have assumed complete responsibility in what they communicate, and thereby the freedom to communicate as they wish. It doesn’t guarantee that the laws regulating speech are just or sensible (for instance it would be illegal for me to inform you of the fact that with freely available software you can make copies of any copy-protected CDs you own), but it does guarantee that I can make the decision to suffer the punishment for the information I want to transmit.

Like any legal principle, this one will frequently be trumped by expediency unless the freedom it guarantees is specifically safeguarded. Finland does have a constitution that guarantees it, but there’s no constitutional court to enforce it nor strong public opinion to demand it, so rights like this are regularily trampled.

Here’s a recent example: my Internet service provider is censoring the Internet. It doesn’t do it very well, and it isn’t yet actually compelled to do so by law, but there it is, nevertheless. Government-“recommended” censorship. If you’re interested in whether yours does, try to view one of the blacklisted pages – (warning: contains pictures of naked people and your ip address will probably be logged), for example. The people who administer computers at these companies are obviously embarrassed by the whole thing; the computer at Saunalahti that hosts the “this page is blocked” -page is called

The law in question is similar to what various other European countries have passed – basically it requires the police to maintain a database of suspicious domains. Internet service providers are not compelled to block the pages on the list, but in every country this has happened in it’s quickly become difficult for them not to. So too with Finland – this will become universal, or the law will be changed to actually censor. Almost certainly there’ll be no need for that.

Of course, this has nothing to do with stopping abuse of children (the system has zero effect on a person’s ability to get child porn) and everything to do with scoring political points, making a fuss and not caring that much about what happens to freedom of speech in the process. Certainly the site I linked to earlier doesn’t seem to contain any child porn, and the police doesn’t really care that much whether it does or not. After this it’ll be dangerous “hate speech”, after that instructions on how to make bombs and drugs and eventually it’ll probably be sites that tell you how to get free copies of motion pictures on the Internet.

As it happens, I’ve also accidentally broken the law that makes it illegal to distribute child porn. Or semi-accidentally.

It happened around the time these kinds of laws were first being discussed and there was a lot of stupid noise being made about the whole thing. I read a web-page about the situation by someone called muzzy – the current version is here. The definition of child porn in Finland was (and is) “indecent images of a person under 18”, which is obviously rather strict. Muzzy had, as an example, a link to the website of a trashy Danish newspaper (think The Sun or Iltalehti) which had a section where they have a nude picture of a pretty girl every day, as papers like that are wont to do. Many of the girls were under 18, some were as young as 16 – it seemed not to be a big deal in Denmark. When I checked the link out, the web-ad that loaded right next to the nude picture was one by the Danish Save the Children organisation, saying something like “have you seen child porn on the net? Inform us and we’ll get it on the Danish block-list.”

Well, I obviously thought this was pretty funny, and took a screenshot of the situation. I added some emphasis, named the picture “prevention.jpg” and placed it in my personal (public) web directory. I told muzzy on irc, he thought it was funny too, and sent the link on. At some point he remarked that I was distributing child porn and I thought “gee, I guess I am.” And then I rather meekly removed the picture because I didn’t want to get into trouble. The picture in question is here, judge for yourselves.

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