What they don’t want you to see online

August 9, 2013 § Leave a comment

What they don’t want you to see online

 by John Kersey

It turns out that David Cameron’s “pornwall” is about rather more than having British ISPs block child pornography. According to the Open Rights Group, who have started a petition against this, the following categories are likely to be subject to user opt-in – otherwise they will be blocked by a filter:

EDIT NOTE: the category examples are based on current mobile configurations and broad indications from ISPs

(1) Screen one

“Parental controls”
Do you want to install / enable parental controls
☑ yes
☐ no

[next]

(2) Screen two [if you have left the box ticked]

“Parental controls”

Do you want to block

☑ pornography
☑ violent material
☑ extremist and terrorist related content
☑ anorexia and eating disorder websites
☑ suicide related websites
☑ alcohol
☑ smoking
☑ web forums
☑ esoteric material
☑ web blocking circumvention tools

You can opt back in at any time

[continue]

The precise pre-ticked options may vary from service to service.

It would appear that our leaders want to take their “nudge” theory rather further in terms of telling people what they should or should not do online. Particularly of concern is the blocking of “esoteric material” – which could apply to a very wide spectrum of entirely legal content from Rudolf Steiner to David Icke, not to mention pagans of various kinds and even the odd Rosicrucian. And woe betide you if you want to buy a few cigars or a bottle of brandy.

What I had not realised was that something like this is already being implemented. If you are unfortunate enough to buy an Orange mobile phone on pay-as-you-go, you get the wonder of its Safeguard system. This, the Open Rights Group explains, believes that you should be prevented from viewing dating sites, from chatting with other people in real time or visiting web forums, from viewing the websites of “universally acknowledged” sects (as a Catholic, I wonder if that includes the Church of England?) and from anything deemed “racist”. This is, I emphasize, not a filter applied to children, but to adults.

There are general filters applied to all pay-as-you-go mobile phones that are in addition to this. These are designed to prevent such phones from accessing blocked “adult” content; the exact nature of what is blocked is not fully disclosed – but in my case, as an O2 user, it has included this very blog. To remove the filter, the owner must identify him or herself by making a credit card payment to the operator (it also says that a passport can be presented at certain shops) at which point the owner will be identified as being over 18 and the block removed. The owner will at that point, of course, have given up any degree of anonymity and provided a convenient means by which he or she can be tracked online. He or she will also, by the way, have paid £1 for the privilege, which is not refunded to the credit card but instead applied – on the first occasion only – as a voucher towards future use of the service.

Nor is this the end of what is already forbidden to us. If you access public wi-fi on the London Underground, you are blocked from accessing “adult material”. If you use Tesco’s in-store wi-fi, you also find content blocked that reportedly includes the website of the Open Rights Group. And if you are in the Houses of Parliament, you can no longer access the website Out of Town Affairs, which offers married men and women the opportunity to engage in adulterous liaisons. This must be a particular distress to our elected representatives and their colleagues, since the website generated 52,000 hits in seven months from Parliamentary computers before it was banned.

2 RESPONSES TO WHAT THEY DON’T WANT YOU TO SEE ONLINE

  1. The thing here isn’t really the “categories”. I mean, that is important, but what really matters is that it represents the implementaton of a hegemonic censorship system, which will be, in the usual slimy British fashion, implemented as a pretended “voluntary” act by the industry; the same way that cinema censorhip under the BBFC was implemented.

    It is worth noting that even when overtly legislating to extend the BBFC’s powers under the infamous 1984 Video Recordings Act (fronted then as now by a backbencher, a man of astonishingly small intellect called Graham Bright who these days is prostituting himself on the web as a lobbyist consultant, on behalf of Mary Shitehouse and the Daily Fail), Parliament spent the risible excuse for a “debate” slapping themselves on the back about how because “an industry body would be doing the censoring” (yes, BBFC again) it wasn’t “state censorship like bad foreign governments have”. I read the whole debate a while back in Hansard, made me want to weep tears of cheese in anger.

    Anyway, so “officially” prior to the 1984 act, there was no censorship at all in the UK. Film makers “voluntarily” submitted their work to the BBFC, who “voluntarily” ordered it cut to certain standards because every council the country- with the power to license cinemas- “voluntarily” chose, by coincidence to refuse a license to any cinema not conforming to BBFC certificaiton.

    So, we have buckets of this slime again, with the government forcing ISPs into “voluntary action” on behalf of the Fail and the new Whitehouse Ms Perry and the Feminist movement. Sigh.

    One thing that probably deserves pointing out is that there is no way for the individual to turn the system off. Even if you untick every box, your every web request will still be routed via the censoring company’s servers, they are simply operating in a “pass through” mode. Even if there is no slippery slope to more draconian censorship (and it would be very naive to believe that this is the End, rather than the End Of The Beginning in that regard), the capability for arbitrary monitoring by the State- by simply implementing pass-through filters not exposed to the user- is obvious and enormous.

    In censorship terms this is 1984, again. Whitehouse’s body lies a mouldering in the grave… but her soul goes marching on.

  2. “Esoteric” could easily include any political site that did not support the conlaberal regime. It could even include this site.

    Blocking “porn” was always going to be the thin end of the wedge.

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