Finnish Internet censorship

Recent developments in the Finnish Internet censorship
system. The Finnish police censors much more than was originally

The Finnish police maintains a secret block list of web sites
allegedly containing child pornography, pursuant to a law passed
late 2006. The purpose of the law is to prevent the access to the
foreign sites that contain child pornography.

Most of the censored sites are located in the United States or
EU countries. Many of the censored sites have turned out to be
apparently legal pornographic sites. Some of the censored sites are
not pornographic sites at all.

The censorship list has been recently augmented with a Finnish
site called
that is maintained by an Internet activist Matti Nikki. The site
does not contain any pornography, let alone child pornography, but
articles that criticise censorship and a list of blocked domains.
Nikki has been one of the most vocal critics of the government’s
net censorship project.

After a public outcry on the censorship practices the police
decided to suspect Nikki of aiding the distribution of material
violating sexual chastity. They called him for questioning on
Wednesday 20 February 2008.

This article gives a summary of Internet censorship in Finland
and an overview of recent developments in English.


What is

The list of censored web sites is supposedly secret. However,
due to the implementation of the censorship mechanism, described
more in detail later, it has been possible to find and study the
censored sites.

The censorship supposedly applies only to foreign web sites that
are used to distribute child pornographic images and the block list
indeed reportedly contains such sites.

However, many of the censored sites are apparently legal
pornographic sites. Most of the censored sites are located in the
United States or in the EU countries which have strict legislation
against child pornography. Many of the censored US sites contain
18 U.S.C. 2257 notice

Many of the blocked sites are link farms, without actual
independent image content. The block list reportedly contains
disproportionately many gay sites.

root page of a censored,
as seen on 17 February 2008.

The censorship however extends not only to the adult sites. For
example, the following sites are censored:

The Finnish police also censors the site, root page of which
is shown in the figure on the right. The root page appears (even
though I don’t understand the Thai text) to be set up in honour of
the late HRH
Princess Galyani Vadhana of Thailand
. This is not a proud
moment to be a Finn. 🙁

The case of Matti Nikki

Matti Nikki (Muzzy) is an Internet activist who is remembered by
many of his analysis of the
Sony BMG DRM spyware
. Nikki maintains an Internet site (translates as
“childpornography”.info). The site contains a list of the censored
sites and critical articles of Internet censorship. The site does
not contain any pornography at all.

The National
Bureau of Investigation
(NBI) added Nikki’s site to the block
list on or about 12 February 2008. The NBI refused to comment the
reasons for the blocking, but they said that generally speaking a
site may be blocked if it contains even one link to alleged child
pornographic site.

Previously the list of censored sites on Nikki’s site had just
the names of the sites, not links. To enter a censored site one had
to copy the site name to the address bar of the browser. The site
was censored after Nikki had made the names of the sites clickable
links (after which there was no need to manually copy the site
names to the address bar of the browser). According to the police
FAQ (in
) the block list includes sites with “a working link to
a site containing child pornography”. There is however no
apparent legal basis for the distinction between not censoring
a site with a written site
name of an alleged child pornographic site,
and censoring a site with the corresponding clickable link.

Nikki had published the block list because it is the only way to
publicly evaluate the censorship practices. According to Nikki,
most of the censored sites are in fact legal pornographic sites. A
member of the parliament that checked Nikki’s list of censored
sites confirmed that the block list contains many sites that are
apparently legal adult sites, with no child pornographic

The censorship of Nikki’s sites caused a public outcry. A legal
Finnish web site had been censored. If Nikki’s site really had some
illegal content, the correct thing to do would have been to obtain
a take down order from the court, as the web server is located in
the Finland and information of the owner of the site is given
clearly at the root page of the site. There was indeed no reason to
censor the site.

After the public outcry the case started to look really bad for
the NBI. On or about 15 February 2008 the police announced that
they would like to question him of suspected aiding of the
distribution of material violating sexual chastity (according to
the criminal code the material violating sexual chastity is images
presenting children, violence or animals in sexual context; the
investigation had apparently been delegated from NBI to the
Helsinki police). Without knowing any details, a good guess is that
the police suspects that having a clickable link to a web site
allegedly containing child pornographic images is equivalent to
aiding the distribution of such images. The blocked sites listed at Nikki’s
site should of course be unaccessible
for the people that have a
Internet connection that implements the block list
(even if they clicked the links, assuming that the blocking would be effective).

On same grounds
the police could probably also call search engines such as Google,
Microsoft Search and Yahoo for questioning.

How the censorship works

An unnamed official (or officials, nobody knows for sure) at the
National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) classifies a web site as a
“child pornography site” and adds it to the secret block list. The
police has announced that the site does not need to have any images
to be added to the block list. It is enough if the site contains
only one link to a site allegedly containing child pornographic
images. The NBI has declared that the second degree linking, for
example, the news sites linking to Nikki’s site, will not be

According to the NBI, the block list contains about 1700

Apparently the police does not try to contact the site Internet
Service Provider (ISP) or the owner of the censored site, even if
the site owner would be known (although due to the secretive
administrative practices of the block list it is difficult to say
how exactly the list is administered and who, if any, is
contacted). This is strange, because most Internet service
providers would certainly react to valid announcements of child
pornography sent to their abuse desk address.

The censorship is applied equally to all clients of the ISP.
There is no way to opt-out (although circumventing the censorship
is technically easy).

It is not clear how the sites are supposed to be removed from
the block list. As far as we can tell the sites are never removed,
unless someone complains to the email address given by the police
and the police judges that the site is no longer a “child
pornographic site”. There is apparently no way to appeal this

Appealing the judgement may be difficult in the first place
because the list is secret (you may not know that you have been
censored) and the police refuses to reveal the listing criteria for
individual sites on the grounds of the secrecy of the list (you may
not know why you have been censored). It is also unclear who would
pay damages or how to demand punishment for a loss of income or
defamation due to an incorrect block list entry.

The police sends the block list to selected ISPs at regular
intervals. Most of the ISPs that implement the block list
then block the access to these sites using a domain
name system (DNS) based blocking mechanism; some ISPs reportedly
use intercepting proxy server to do the filtering. The ISPs are required
by law to keep the block list secret.

The censorship is very coarse. Whole web servers are blocked.
For example, a web server of a large Internet Service Provider can
serve thousands of sites belonging to different customers. For
example, lets assume someone posts a message containing a link to
an alleged child pornographic site to a message board maintained by
one of these customers. The message appears on the site for a day,
after which the maintainer of the message board removes the message
as inappropriate. If the NBI happens to check the site during the
brief period when the offending message is visible they may censor
the whole site for undetermined time. For the same reason sites
with lots of user generated content are at risk: it may be enough
that one user posts some inappropriate content to get the whole
site censored. The potential for collateral censorship is huge.


Announcement by the police that a web site
you tried to access has been censored.

When the client’s web browsers sends a request for a domain name
server (DNS) of an Internet (IP) address of a censored site the DNS
does not return the actual IP address of the censored server but an
IP address of the ISP’s server that contains an announcement that
the site has been blocked.

Instead of the censored site, the client is shown an
announcement of the following kind (translated from Finnish; see
the figure on the right for the original announcement, as shown at
the Nikki’s site):


Your browser has tried to access a site for which the access
has been prevented due to the act on preventive measures on
distribution of child pornography. The police maintains and updates
a list of these child pornography sites. It is punishable to
possess or distribute images on these sites. For the police these
images are evidence of sexual crimes against children.

Any messages on the issue can be sent the National Bureau of
Investigation, email address

From this link you can read the criminal code related to the
child pornography.

In other words, the police claims that a blocked site contains
child pornographic images, even though this is not necessarily true
– even according to the police a single web link is sufficient to
get a whole site blocked, no images are required.

The announcement page contains just the email address (which
reportedly even did not work originally). There is no other contact
information or information of who is in charge of the block

How the censorship can be

The censorship is easy to circumvent with minimal technical
skills. It is sufficient to use some other domain name server than
that of your Internet Service Provider (ISP), such as OpenDNS, or a third party web proxy

The implementation of the censorship mechanism makes it possible
to find out what is on the supposedly secret block list. One can
for example implement a web crawler that sends a domain name
request of the crawled sites to the ISP’s name server. If the name
server returns the address of the ISP’s announcement server then
the domain name is censored. Getting a partial snapshot of the
block list this way is possible for all customers of the ISPs that
implement the censorship.

Most of the supposedly secret block list has in fact been
published in several venues.

Is the censorship legal

The Constitution
of Finland
, section 12, guarantees the freedom of expression.
Censorship is absolutely forbidden by the constitution, except that
there may be restrictions relating to pictorial programmes that are
necessary for the protection of children.

The censorship is implemented pursuant to the act on preventive
measures on distribution of child pornography, passed late 2006
in Finnish

The law authorizes the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to
maintain a secret block list of foreign web sites that distribute
child pornographic images. The law is supposed to be a final resort to
block the access to sites that can’t be taken down by conventional
judicial means, such as by a take down order issued by the court of

According to the statement by the Faculty of Law of the
University of Turku during the drafting of the law, submitted on
request to the Ministry of Transport and Communications, the act on
preventive measures on distribution of child pornography violates
the constitution.

There was however a strong political pressure to appear to be
doing something to the child pornography in the Internet. The law
was rushed through the parliament with no opposition as an ordinary
law, disregarding the possible unconstitutionality. (It is possible
to make laws that contradict the constitution, but such laws should
be passed as constitutional laws with 5/6 majority at the
parliament, or 2/3 majority at two consecutive parliaments.)

The ministry implied during the drafting of the law that if the
Finnish Internet Service Providers did not submit to the
“voluntary” censorship the government would make the censorship
mandatory. This is why the “voluntary” in ‘”voluntary” censorship’
is often written within quotation marks.

The law (even though the law itself may be unconstitutional)
only authorizes blocking foreign sites that are used to
distribute child pornographic images.

The NBI however has also blocked Nikki’s site, a domestic site
which contains no child pornography but critique of net censorship.
It appears that much more than just sites containing child
pornographic images are censored.

Because the law is infringing a civil right protected by the
constitution it should be interpreted as restrictively as possible.
The legality of the current implementation of the censorship is
doubtful: the coarse DNS based blocking mechanism censors whole web
servers, some with thousands of sites, resulting to huge collateral
censorship. The NBI also appears to have a very expansive
interpretation of the applicability of the law.

According to the law, the block list is secret. NBI uses this
secrecy as a basis to refuse to disclose the blocking criteria even
of the sites publicly known to be on the block list (such as Matti
Nikki’s site). It appears that the NBI uses the secrecy of the list
as an excuse to keep also the administration of the list as closed
and secretive as possible.

Is the censorship legal? The act on preventive measures on
distribution of child pornography itself may be unconstitutional,
the coarse technical implementation of the censorship may
inherently cause illegal collateral censorship and the NBI appears
to have stepped well outside the bounds set by the law in
maintaining the block list.

Is the
censorship efficient in fighting child pornography

According to the ministry the censorship is supposed to prevent
ending up to a child pornographic site by accident – even though it
is extremely unlikely to end up to a child pornographic site by
accident in the first place and even though everyone have always
been able to obtain a net filtering program or service on voluntary
basis. The distribution of child pornographic images is illegal in
most countries and therefore these images are not typically
distributed from the open web sites for which this type of
censorship could even in principle be efficient.

Even the preliminary work on the law recognized the fact that
the censorship will not do much good for the real problem, that is,
the sexual abuse of children. It was also recognized early that the
censorship could be easily bypassed.

It seems that it is the appearances that count here. It is
important that someone appears to be doing something to
counter the child pornography in the Internet; even though it can
be argued that the censorship just makes things worse in sweeping
the real problem under the carpet (not to speak of introduction of
unconstitutional censorship mechanism).

An opponent of the censorship is easily labelled a supporter of
child pornography.

The censorship hurts law-abiding citizens who try to visit
wrongly censored sites, and owners of the wrongly blocked sites who
are labeled as distributors of child pornographic images by the

The censorship hurts the victims by sweeping the real problem of
child abuse under the carpet, out of sight, out of mind. Many of
the censored sites in countries with a strict legislation against
child pornography stay up and are not taken down. This implies that
either the sites do not really contain child pornographic images or
the NBI has not informed the local authorities or Internet Service
Providers of the infringing sites; or that the local US and EU
authorities are not doing anything – all explanations are equally

The resources wasted on the futile censorship project would have
been better spent on giving more emphasis to the co-operation of
the police authorities in different countries so that the offending
sites could be really shut down and the people responsible brought
into justice. This was in fact suggested by many,
including Effi
, during the drafting of the law.

Expansion of censorship

It didn’t take long for people to suggest expanding the
censorship further.

During the past month or so it has been suggested that the
Internet poker sites should be censored with the same system. Net
poker apparently is a problem for some and the solution would be to
censor all gambling sites for good. A real reason behind this may
also be the protection of the Finnish national gambling monopoly
which has not managed to set up a net poker site of their own, at
least yet.

There have been
EU wide plans
to prevent access to the sites that allegedly
“promote copyright infringement”, such as the Pirate Bay; this has also been
suggested by our domestic recording and movie industry

Some have suggested preventing access to racist sites and so

Supposedly some guy at the National Bureau of Investigation
would decide which sites contain copyright infringing or racist
content or whatever else is on the list and add them to the secret
block list.

We are on a slippery slope here. The civil rights, such as the
freedom of expression or right to privacy, are deteriorating
rapidly in Finland, a fact noted in the
2007 International Privacy Ranking
of the Privacy

On reason for the sad state of affairs is the lack of knowledge
of the Internet. The first reaction of many to the new world order
brought by the Internet is to have more restrictions. It may also
be that the relatively long period of stability and democracy has
made many forget why the constitutional rights, such as the freedom
of expression or right to privacy, are important. These rights are
too easily traded for apparent sense of security or for the
economic interests of large corporations.

What Effi
will do

The act on preventive measures on distribution of child
pornography has little legal remedies.

Many constitutional safeguards have already been passed.

Effi will, among others, appeal of the law and the current
censorship practices to the
Parliamentary Ombudsman
or the Chancellor of Justice
who supervise the lawfulness of the actions of Government
Ministers and public officials, and monitor the implementation of
basic rights and liberties and human rights.

Hopefully there will be real discussion of the meaning of the
constitutional rights.

However, there is little anyone can do in the long term if the
basic rights are seen by the politicians and the public secondary
to the apparent sense of security.

in English

Kai Puolamäki
18 February 2008

This document is Public