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Tough Work Week & Child Abuse Conference

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This week was a pretty hard on both at the office and after that with all the freelance work. When I got rid of the day’s job, I was mostly good for watching a couple of episodes of Shield and falling asleep with my dinner in my mouth.

Thursday was an especially interesting, but hardly a pleasant day. I spent it in a conference arranged by Save the Children Finland. The topic of the conference was There Is No Child Pornography – It’s Child  Sexual Abuse and it was mainly about the problems internet and new technology.  I was there to write an article about it in the society’s magazine.

I had been a bit surprised to get the job, since I’ve been speaking publicly against the DNS-based filtering system that has been implemented in Finland. I’m not against a filtering system in general, but in here the implementation is really half-assed. It was meant to be used against sites, which are hosted in countries, where there’s no legal way to shut the sites down. Instead we got a secret list of web pages, which was pretty easy to snoop out. It ended up containing loads of pages in Netherlands and US, some pages with no objectionable content at all and in a pretty famous way a page that was criticizing the filtering techniques. Not to mention the fact that there doesn’t seem to be any kind of official appeals system for the sites that got to the list accidentally.

In any case, there were several speakers from Britain, USA and Denmark – some of them worked for non-governmental organizations, some of them for Interpol and so on. What made the conference interesting was the behind the scenes glimpse to how you could track people using clues left in the photos and the case studies of how offenders got caught. I’m not going to go to specifics here, but the sleuthwork required to track the offenders and the victims is really quite amazing. The case photos, obviously, were less than comfortable to see. For understandable reasons filming and recording was completely forbidden during the conference.

I of course brought up the issue with the filtering systems and it resulted in a very interesting, calm and informed conversation during and after the presentations, which was a welcome change after the emotional pro/con-hysteria in Finnish public discussion and the net. The system Internet Watch Foundation uses in UK seems to be far more sensible than the DNS-based things used in Scandinavia. They don’t block entire domains, but individual pages, plus there is an appeals process. Additionally, according to their representative, with whom I had a nice chat in between the presentations, they are under quite a lot of scrutiny and accountable for what they do.

From the man in Interpol I heard specifics on how the serious offenders hide their sites, which sounded pretty damn technically savvy. Well, now I have comments from two professionals, who told me that the filtering lists are trivial to circumvent and they don’t hinder serious pedophiles in the least (which earned me some stinking looks from the audience). According to them the lists might be an effective deterrent that skims the scum off the top, so to speak – practically they scare away people, who have tendencies towards kids. Apparently there are studies which show the effectiveness of these kinds of deterrents in other areas of net crime, but I haven’t yet received the research data I asked for. I’m very interested to see it, though – I’m sick and tired of hearing “by doing this knee-jerk reactionary thing, the society giving a clear signal about X”, which usually means “we are doing something symbolic, ineffective and ill-advised so that we feel we are doing something”. Now, some hard facts about the effectiveness of these things, thank you.

Well, the conference certainly gave food for thought. I’ve previously been volunteering in Finland’s Red Cross’ Youth Safe Houses in Helsinki and Tampere, but after the conference I sent an application for a volunteer work in Save the Children. I hope they’ll find some use for my skillset.

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