Uphold the Right to Information and Freedom of Expression,
Go After Child Pornographers Offline
Position Paper of the Computer Professionals’ Union on the January 13 ISP Block on Select Adult Websites
The blanket takedown of at least 21 adult websites last January 13 on orders from the National Telecommunications Communication (NTC) is an inutile and haphazard move to address child pornography in the country. More importantly, it technically impinges on what should be universal rights to information and freedom of expression.
We are very much against child pornography, or the objectification of women in pornography in general for that matter. Having said that, the blanket banning of websites restricts the freedom of users to access content. Blanket restrictions on access to web content is a form of state censorship that we cannot condone.
Furthermore, the preferred method of blocking websites at the level of internet service providers or ISPs, called Domain Name Server (DNS) Filtering, may cause more harm than good to cybersecurity. Web addresses that we type into the address bar of our browsers is translated into machine-readable IP address form by domain name servers (DNS). The current DNS system is being upgraded to a more secure version called DNSSEC. DNSSEC allows for a more trusted and verified resolution of domain names to actual IP addresses. DNS filtering will throw back years of research on making the Internet more secure with a better DNS system.
Furthermore, the fact that the blocking of websites was done without due process, transparency, and sufficient necessity and proportionality creates a dangerous precedent and may preclude similar moves that violate what should be our constitutionally protected rights.
It can be recalled that in February 2014 the Philippine Supreme Court ruled that Section 19 of the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 is void and unconstitutional. This section of the Act allowed for the Department of Justice (DOJ) to restrict or block access to computer data deemed illegal under the Act. In the ruling, the SC states that “Here, the Government, in effect, seizes and places the computer data under its control and disposition without a warrant. The Department of Justice order cannot substitute for judicial search warrant.” In the case of the blanket takedown of adult websites last January 13, the NTC has not presented any court orders or warrants at all.
Memorandum Circular No. 01-01-2014, and its addendum M.C. No. 03-07-2015, has given such powers to NTC with minimal regard for internet users’ rights in line with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. These M.C.s compel internet service providers (ISPs) to install technologies to filter online content for child pornography, give authority to the NTC to order ISPs to immediately block access to websites identified by the Inter-Agency Council Against Child Pornography (IACACP), and oblige ISPs to preserve data on time, origin and destination of access of customers for use by authorities.
We find that these provisions of M.C. Nos. 01-01-2014 and 03-07-2015 do not adhere to The Manila Principles on Intermediary Liability, which we see best lays down a framework of safeguards and best practices governing requests for censorship and content removal. These include:
- The requirement of an order from an independent and impartial judicial authority to restrict content, which explicitly describes: (a) why the content is unlawful; (b) the internet identifier and description of the unlawful content; (c) evidence to back the legal basis of the order; and (d) the time period that the content restriction will take effect;
- The requirement that requests for content restrictions be clear, unambiguous, and follow due process;
- Complying with the tests of necessity and proportionality, specifically, that: (a) content to be restricted should be limited to the specific content at issue; and, (b) the adoption of the least restrictive technical means to restrict content;
- Ensuring that there is transparency and accountability in content restriction policies and practices.
While we are firmly against blanket censorship, especially without due process and transparency, we would like to add that from a technical standpoint, the blacklisting of websites by ISPs is a useless move. The content is still there, can be accessed anywhere else in the world, or can be reposted on any other web page. Any person with knowledge of use of proxies, alternative DNS servers, anonymizers and other similar IP re-routers can easily circumvent this block. And even if the blacklisted websites cannot be accessed, there are more than two million web pages with an .xxx domain, not to mention the countless other potential sources of child pornography like chat rooms, file-sharing networks, email groups, and the like, where illegal content can be accessed.
Censorship as a means to curb child pornography is akin to shooting down a bomb with millions more bomber planes in the air. The most effective means of tackling child pornography on the web is to go after the child pornographers themselves. Instead of ordering ISPs to block entire websites, government should be working with authorities worldwide to track, identify, and capture producers and uploaders of child porn.#