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Yes, you read that correctly. UK Internet censorship, surely that can't be right - after all that kind of thing only happens in places like China and Iran does it not? Well you'd be wrong, because it's happening right now and the chances are you aren't even aware that your ISP is blocking access to certain content on your behalf. Do you feel cosy, warm and protected now?
This issue came to light when I stumbled across a BBC News article about a Wikipedia page that had been blocked by a number of UK Internet providers. Now I don't wish to enter a debate about kiddie porn here because that's not the focus of this article. As vile as it is you'll never keep sick individuals away from it if that's what they're really after. The classification of the image on this page is probably a moot point as the album in question is available on Amazon and can be found in hundreds of record stores. Things were obviously different back in the 70's!
more sinister scenarios are very easy to imagine and probably just as easy to implement
My gripe here is about censorship of the Internet without consent. I feel that you should know when certain content is being blocked or restricted. You should know exactly what your ISP is preventing you from seeing and in my opinion you should be free to make a choice based on that. Better still, you should be free to choose whether or not you want to be protected from illegal content. As one of the Wikipedia articles says, "Users of several ISPs are receiving 404 or 403 errors when visiting the article. The first rule of thumb for tolerated censorship should be that people are made aware of when they are being censored."
Exactly - and that's the whole point of this gripe. The chances are if you are unable to get to that Wikipedia page, you probably didn't even know that it was censored and with generic 404 or 403 messages you never will. Pretty scary I thought. This is a Wikipedia page with some questionable images at the moment, but other more sinister scenarios are very easy to imagine and probably just as easy to implement.
Whilst I don't consider the IWF to be the bad guys here (they are after all providing a useful service to protect people), I do question the implementation of the dynamic blacklist by major UK ISP's and their lack of transparency. Most people probably don't know or even worse don't care about freedom of speech or civil liberties, but I think it is of the utmost importance. I consider this kind of censorship without prior consent or knowledge to be the first step on a very dangerous road.
Incidentally, Demon Internet are one of the more honest ISP's that either don't censor content (Business Broadband) or provide their users with a meaningful message as to why access has been denied to a particular page. A choice would be the ideal situation, but an informed message is better than nothing or a generic 404 / 403 message.
That censored Wikipedia page (which you probably can't view!)
There's a wealth of information on this specific issue here:
Wikipedia:Administrators' noticeboard/2008 IWF action