By Heini Järvinen

EDRi member Open Rights Group’s (ORG) Blocked project reveals that nearly one in five of the most popular websites are blocked by at least one of the “voluntary” filters implemented by Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in the United Kingdom when strict filtering settings are used.

The UK ISPs filter and block the sites by default. The filters, installed on the mobile and broadband networks, were ostensibly implemented to protect children from being exposed to adult content. However, besides pornography, violence, gambling, drugs and alcohol, a great deal of legitimate non-adult content sites that are not necessarily harmful to children have ended up being blocked.

As a follow-up to their Mobile Filtering Report launched in May 2012, ORG has built a website www.blocked.org.uk that offers any web user a free checking tool that can be used to find out if a website has been blocked by filters in UK’s main Internet networks. Already over 130,000 sites have been checked through the Blocked project; almost one in five of them is blocked by at least one of the ISPs by the stronger settings, and around one in ten by the standard settings.

The arbitrary, groundless blocking affects individuals looking for information, but also businesses and non-profit organisations.

“Filters can stop customers accessing your business, block political commentary or harm your education,” said Jim Killock, Executive Director of ORG. “The government has told everybody that they have to take child safety extremely seriously and that filters are in some way an answer to that. People are being pushed into filtering lots of content that they simply don’t need to and is not dangerous to children.”

Some of the more ridiculous examples of sites that were blocked include the well-known conservative blog order-order.com, womens’ rights website sherights.com and feminist blog jezebel.com.

Ironically, the former CEO of one of the UK’s largest ISPs Talktalk phoned EDRi late on a Friday evening a few years ago to complain about our position on blocking. He rejected completely our contention that blocking of allegedly illegal material, in the absence of any democratic or judicial controls, would lead to blocking of legal content. The conversation was very polite – we agreed to disagree.

“We would really appreciate it if TalkTalk would remove us from their block list. The only people who block us are them, and the Chinese government.”

– Paul Staines, Editor, Guido Fawkes’ blog

ORG’s Blocked project finds almost 1 in 5 sites are blocked by filters (02.07.2014)
https://www.openrightsgroup.org/blog/2014/blockedproject

UK’s web filters blocking nearly one-fifth of the world’s most popular websites (03.07.2014)
https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20140702/22000227768/uks-web-filters-blocking-nearly-one-fifth-worlds-most-popular-websites.shtml

Internet filters blocking one in five most-popular websites (02.07.2014)
http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/jul/02/internet-filters-blocking-popular-websites-guido-jezebel

Nearly 20% of the most popular sites are blocked in the UK (only in French04.07.2014)
http://www.numerama.com/magazine/29907-pres-de-20-des-sites-les-plus-populaires-sont-bloques-en-gb.html

Mobile Internet censorship: what’s happening and what we can do about it (14.05.2012)
https://www.openrightsgroup.org/ourwork/reports/mobile-internet-censorship:-whats-happening-and-what-we-can-do-about-it

 

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