In 2005 the Finnish Minister of Communications Susanna Huovinen and others started a project to censor foreign web sites which offer child pornographic material in the Internet which became a bill (HE 99/2006) in 2006 and was accepted in 2007. The aim of the project was to censor sites which cannot, through legal means within Finland or with international cooperation be taken down. The way the project was framed was the following: “Internet Service Providers (ISPs) can take the list into use, and if they do not, we will pass a law which mandates the taking into use. Feel free to not take the list into use, as this is all voluntary.” (Tietokone, 2006; Lausuntokooste, 2006)
Child pornography is a gross violation of children’s rights. Despite of this, the project was criticized from the beginning by various electronic activists and activist groups. The project was seen as a first step towards wider and deeper censorship of material in the Internet. These fears have now been realized. In the black list created by one member of the Finnish National Bureau of Investigations (NBI), it has been found out through indirect means, at least 1000 of the 1700 web pages blocked (Nikki, 2008) seem to be sites which the Finnish law does not forbid (a very preliminary analysis available at: http://maraz.kapsi.fi/sisalto-en.html). Most of them appear to be normal pornographic material, which, even if morally questionable, are not illegal in Finland. Many seem to be gay pornography, again, not in any way illegal in Finland. A fewer number still appear to be sites which promote child models, and finally, some sites are perfectly mundane, such as Japanese Okubo Violin store web site. Thus, at least half of the web sites blocked contain no illegal material at all. This seems extremely worrying to anyone interested in freedom of expression and legal procedure.
To make the things worse, there have already been several suggestions to extend the black list. The first mentioned in media was to block web sites which distribute or provide links to illegal downloads of copyrighted material in the Internet. The latest call is for the list to be extended to Internet poker sites, which according to a study (Määttä, 2008, pp. 52) ‘cause addiction to the Finnish population’. Other suggestions for additions to the list of censored things are, as was feared to be expected shortly.
Unfortunately the problems do not end here. A web site specifically created to critique the law (lapsiporno.info – in English, “childporn.info” – one may discuss the pro’s and con’s of the choice of the name, but the content of the site is not in question, there is no child pornography what so ever at the web site) has already been added to the list. Thus, even discussion of the content of the black list is added under censorship in Finland. This, apparently, is illegal, as well as immoral. The law specifically states, that it is to be applied to foreign web sites, not ones in Finland – as the police, of course, has the duty to investigate and the prosecutor to prosecute any web sites in Finland offering child pornography. Police Sergeant Lars Henriksson, responsible for the upkeep of the black list has stated publicly, that any web sites offering links to web sites offering child pornography is guilty of abetting child pornography (Tekniikka & Talous, 2008). However, how is the public to discuss whether the list contains child pornography or not, if listing the sites is forbidden? Also, passive links (which the person using a browser need but copy/paste to the address line) are allowed, as no such web sites have been censored (at least yet). The current Minister of Communications Suvi Lindén has also warned the public in the television news to not test the list nor to question the content of the list ‘at their own peril’. Fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) seems to be the strategy applied by the administration to the issue. The discussion (or the aims to stop it) starts to resemble some of the tactics employed by totalitarian societies, instead of democratic, transparent legal systems.
From a political-legal perspective, the traditional division of the authorities to executive, judicial and political branches is also in question, when one (1) person at the NBI decides.
- what is illegal (and as has been seen a lot of it is not)
- what is to be done about it (censorship), and
- who and to whom can be complained (no notification of ending up at the list is provided and only an email address directed to the same person is provided).
In the paper I will go through the issues in more detail and discuss the fears raised by the possible future implied by these policies. As pointed out by one critic of the system, “[in regard to censorship] we seem to be on a flight to China – and it is not going to be a holiday trip.”
HE 99/2006, Hallituksen esitys Eduskunnalle laiksi lapsipornografian levittämisen estotoimista, available at http://www.finlex.fi/linkit/hepdf/20060099, last checked Feb 21, 2008.
Lausuntokooste (2006), Liikenne ja viestintäministeriö, available at the web pages of the ministry of transport and communications, http://www.mintc.fi/oliver/upl180-Lausuntokooste.pdf, last checked Feb 21, 2008.
Määttä, Kalle (2008), Etärahapelien sääntelystä, Stakes, Helsinki, 2008, available at http://www.stm.fi/Resource.phx/vastt/paihde/peli/index.htx.i407.pdf, last checked Feb 21, 2008.
Nikki, Matti (2008), The Finnish Internet Censorship List, available at http://lapsiporno.info/suodatuslista/?lang=en, last checked Feb 21, 2008.
Tekniikka & Talous (2008), Poliisi sensuroi pornosuodatuksen rajoja koetelleen sivuston, available at http://www.tekniikkatalous.fi/ict/article59589.ece, last checked Feb 21, 2008.
Tietokone (2006), Luhtanen hyvästeli ammattilaisia, available at http://www.tietokone.fi/uutta/uutinen.asp?news_id=24686, last checked Feb 21, 2008.