The internet - and more significantly the mainstream media - is abuzz with the news that the hitherto low profile Internet Watch Foundation has blacklisted a Wikipedia page. The IWF blacklist - more formally the Child Sexual Abuse Content URL List - is a list of URLs alleged to contain child pornography, which UK ISPs have "voluntarily" agreed to block (that is, they volunteered when the government indicated that if they did not legislation would be introduced compelling them to do so).
This presents all sorts of interesting problems for the law and civil liberties. There is no legislation underpinning the IWF, which is a purely private body. There is no judicial control of its activities, and the process by which it blocks sites is particularly opaque (it does not notify site owners either before or after sites are blocked, nor does it offer a right to be heard). It does claim to offer a right of appeal against blocking, but that is not an appeal to an independent body but to a division of the Metropolitan Police. In short, it has (with government backing) implemented a remarkable system of censorship which departs from almost every traditional understanding of freedom of expression in the UK.
I've been following the development of this system for some time now, and I spoke about some of these issues in this paper at the 2008 BILETA Conference in Glasgow: