Monday, December 08, 2008

British Internet users face Chinese-style censorship

A large proportion of UK Internet users are today having their internet access censored and are unable to post edits on Wikipedia unless they register an account.

The Internet Watch Foundation received complaints about a Wiki for German heavy metal band The Scorpions who featured a very young naked girl on an album cover. Wikipedia do not censor content themselves.

The Internet Watch Foundation are not part of the British legal system or a Government agency. They are actually a registered charity, and it would be rather interesting to see who is on the list of their major contributors.

British ISP's have responded to the complaint by not only blocking access to the image, but also to the text on the page. In the news item that I heard on radio this morning, and in the items I have found online, the technical explanation for this is to do with the way that the heavy bandwidth for traffic with Wikipedia sites is handled - full explanation here.

Now bear in mind that the IWF do NOT represent the British Government or the law as it stands. They are (supposedly) an independent body who work with the ISP's to eliminate potentially illegal content. So, why are UK users able freely to access other porn sites featuring children and young people? Why this particular site? Who complained?

This is their official statement on the matter as of the time of writing.

Currently my ISP Virgin Media is blocking access to the page itself via a 404 page. If I try to edit a Wiki, I get a warning page from Wikipedia itself advising me that the block is indefinite and asking me to register an account if I want to edit or create Wikis. Other ISP's including BSkyb are taking similar action.

Apparently there was another complaint about the same material from some fundamental Christian organisation in the USA earlier in the year. The FBI were notified at the time, but reportedly laughed at the complainers and said go away.

This is an extremely serious situation. Regardless of the actual content, this appears to be the first time that an organisation that is NOT DIRECTLY a law enforcement agency has succeeded in censoring what we can look at online. Moreover, it is ridiculous stupidity, the image exists elsewhere online. Are they going to force ISP's to block the whole of Amazon next?

My perception is that my civil rights have been breached and are very likely to be further breached in the future if this kind of busybodying and petty interfering moralising is put in the hands of people who don't have any legal right to tell me what I can and cannot look at on the Internet.

This is the UK, not Communist China, we have freedom of speech and communication here and it is being eroded via the back door.

This is what a BBC blog and its readers have to say


Simon said...

Although Virgin may be blocking your access, if you log into the Virgin Megastore online you can still buy the offending album.
Doesn't leave them much of an excuse, does it?

Anonymous said...

I dislike censorship on this. Aside from the fact that some unelected and unaccountable body is censoring what people can see, and that they do it in a quite incredibly ham-fisted manner; to me the problem is that people nowadays cannot seem to distinguish nudity from pornography. According to the government's own definition (drafted for the banning of "extreme" pornography), an image is not pornography unless its purpose is to arouse. I'm fairly certain the purpose of this image is to sell records. You can't define pornography any other way - there are strange people out there, including a woman who married a fence, but we aren't going to censor all photos of fences because she finds them sexually arousing.

Furthermore, it's the issue of children. I can understand that people feel obliged to protect children, but I am made to feel like a paedophile if I even look at a child. An image of a naked child is no more erotic than an image of a naked adult in the same pose. Just one gets the Daily Mail up.