UK's Government Computers Used To Access Porn More Than 300,000 Times In The Last 14 Months

from the let-he-who-is-without-sin...-oh,-I-guess-I-don't-see-anyone-like-that-here.. dept

UK Prime Minister David Cameron is so busy attempting to stomp out internet porn that he's completely overlooked his own backyard. And this metaphoric backyard now more closely resembles an unmarried uncle's closet, thanks Cameron's inattention, at least according to figures obtained by the Huffington Post.

Following a Freedom of Information (FOI) request from the Huffington Post UK, the House of Commons authorities acknowledged that users of the Parliamentary Network servers, including both MPs and their staff, have repeatedly attempted to access websites classed on Parliament's network as pornographic between May 2012 and July 2013.

According to the official figures, the number of attempts to access pornographic websites via the Parliamentary network peaked for 2012 at 114,844 last November and at 55,552 in April for 2013.
All told, there were more than 300,000 access attempts in the last 14 months. There are some very strange fluctuations in month-to-month activity (only 15 access attempts in February?), but the overall picture is one that shows MPs (and their staff) aren't too much different from the general public in terms of using the internet for its original purpose: porn.

And now that the news is public, an official (but anonymous) spokewoman is coming up with the same sort of almost-plausible excuses that John Q. Public would deploy when caught "accessing" porn by his significant other.
A House of Commons spokeswoman said the statistics do not prove a user "intended" to access a pornographic website as "a user may access a site that contains optional or automatic links to others, or other "pop-up" arrangements, which are recorded as requests."
"Pop-up arrangement," eh? Sounds pretty dirty to me. Granted, I run with Adblock most of the time (exceptions for sites I like/trust/visit frequently), but in my limited experience, most "optional or automatic links" to other porn sites are served by… other porn sites. Sure, there are several sketchier sites that dabble in SEO trickery and "referral links" to porn and porn-ish sites, but by and large, it's pretty easy to surf the web without being served porn pop-ups and referral links, especially if you're using a government computer where you know your internet history is subject to scrutiny.

But if you don't buy that excuse, here's another.
"We are not going to restrict Parliamentarians' ability to carry out research," the spokeswoman added.
Ah. Research. We all have our own euphemisms for suckerpunching the clownfish but "research" doesn't rank too high on the list. This one doesn't fly at home either. "Babe, I was just researching the effects of surreptitious porn viewing on the average relationship... [longish pause while s.o.'s angry glare reaches full intensity] ... I'll just put you down under the 'Negative' column."

Also left unsatisfied by this unnamed spokeswoman is how strict the government's porn filters are, at least in comparison to those being foisted upon the public. No details were forthcoming due to "ICT security."

Maybe Cameron should do a quick, informal (and very anonymous) survey of his fellow politicians to see if they still agree with installing porn filters at the ISP level. It looks like no one on the "inside" is in a hurry to give up their "access" to porn. It also indicates that "accessing" porn is something even normal, trustworthy* people like elected officials do. And surely their "research" and "access" activities didn't harm "the children," did they?

*["Normal and trustworthy" in the sense that other elected officials would consider their peers to be normal and trustworthy -- because they consider themselves to be normal and trustworthy.]

This whole thing is more than simple irony or an embarrassing waste of taxpayer funds. It's another indication that porn is ubiquitous and clearly acceptable to a much larger demographic than Cameron is willing to admit.

This sort of thing happens in the US as well and as taxpayers we have every right to complain about public servants eyeballing porn on our dime. But here we don't have the government pushing mandatory porn filters on ISPs and, outside of a few representatives who periodically attempt to push their version of a "family-friendly" everything on us, there's no cohesive drive to stomp out adult entertainment.

There are lessons to be learned here (many people, even normal, non-perverts "access" porn without harming themselves, others or "the children," filtering and firewalls don't work nearly as well as those pushing them believe they do), but I'm fairly sure Cameron will spin this news as an argument for his agenda.



Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    That One Guy (profile), Sep 5th, 2013 @ 3:37am

    Wait, his actions make sense now...

    Suddenly Cameron's anti-porn crusade makes sense, he probably walked in on someone 'researching', or ran across a computer that was being used to look for 'reference material', and now he's trying to make sure that such a traumatic event never happens again.

     

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  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 5th, 2013 @ 5:42am

    Re: Wait, his actions make sense now...

    Nah, he's probably just protecting a friend who was "researching" child porn.

     

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  3.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 5th, 2013 @ 5:46am

    i would really like to know how many of those times, on how many of those computers were by Cameron and Perry! that could really stir the pussy pot!!

     

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  4.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 5th, 2013 @ 5:51am

    The key quote is this one

    have repeatedly attempted to access websites classed on Parliament's network as pornographic

    Classified by who? Classified by what?

    Everyone who has been watching the debacle of alleged porn filters knows that the false positive rate on all of them is incredibly high. (For example, the ignorant, worthless, incompetent morons at Sonicwall classified the wonderful web comic XKCD as porn, please see: http://boingboing.net/2008/10/21/sonicwall-thinks-xkc.html)

    So out of those 300K hits, how many were really porn sites and how many were false positives?

     

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  5.  
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    Richard (profile), Sep 5th, 2013 @ 5:54am

    Missclassified

    The alternative explanation is that the sites in question were not actually pornographic - but were missclassified by the system. Unfortunately for Cameron that theory blows an even bigger hole in his plan...

     

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  6.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 5th, 2013 @ 5:58am

    this is as one sided an argument as Cameron and his 'Merry Men' use to do their damndest to stop ordinary people from drinking and from being able to buy alcohol at cheap prices. he hasn't done anything at all to change the pricing policy in the House of Commons, where all MPs can purchase alcohol at less than duty free prices, in quantities they want, for purposes they want. he also hasn't said anything about the MPs who have been reprimanded and worse for 'being drunk whilst on duty'! all this is for is to make it look as if this bunch of twats that is called a government is doing 'something' that a certain sector of the population want done. it has not and never will stop people looking at porn and it sure as hell wont stop people from doing whatever it is they want to do, whether good or bad!

     

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  7.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 5th, 2013 @ 6:05am

    I just want to say that to my knowledge, you are the first person to use 'suckerpunching the clownfish' as your euphamism. Google doesn't find that, and I salute this euphamism.

    I shall now embrace it's use.

    The euphamism, not the clownfish. Sicko.

    :D

     

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  8.  
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    out_of_the_blue, Sep 5th, 2013 @ 6:08am

    What in the word "attempts" leads you to say:

    "lessons to be learned here ... filtering and firewalls don't work nearly as well as those pushing them believe they do)" when the statement has "repeatedly attempted ... the number of attempts".

    Obviously, sites were not only blocked but logged, so your title having "Used To Access" is FLAT WRONG.

    Then you take up a Typical Techdirt Theme: so pro-porn that you appear to want public servants accessing it at work!

    Worse than being censored on the net is being advertised. You can escape censorship with your ideas intact; advertising explicitly has the goal of changing you.

     

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  9.  
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    AMusingFool (profile), Sep 5th, 2013 @ 6:13am

    Re: The key quote is this one

    This is what I wonder about, too. I remember once, working onsite at the DoJ, when microsoft.com was classified as a porn site for several days.

     

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  10.  
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    MonkeyFracasJr (profile), Sep 5th, 2013 @ 6:16am

    300k in 14months

    pfft ... amateurs.

     

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  11.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 5th, 2013 @ 6:28am

    I had to research prostitution by hiring a prostitute!

    Hey, sure I hired a prostitute despite voting to keep prostitution illegal... but I had to do that for... research.

    I wouldn't have known which way to vote had I not undressed her and had sex with her multiple times! Because umm... seeing her naked body made me realize how we must keep this immoral activity illegal! ... Well, that and I had to see if prostitutes were good enough to be worth over $1,000 an hour... and I umm... came to the conclusion that prostitutes immorally rob their customers with that outrageously high price!

     

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  12.  
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    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), Sep 5th, 2013 @ 6:32am

    Re: Re: Wait, his actions make sense now...

    A "friend."

     

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  13.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 5th, 2013 @ 6:50am

    UK Gov is full of porn addicts. That's ok though. We won't pass judgement on Parliament's horny activities, otherwise known as 'research'. Only a repressive barbarian would attempt to pass judgement on a person's private 'researching' affairs.

     

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  14.  
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    Anonymous Anonymous Coward, Sep 5th, 2013 @ 7:02am

    Re: Wait, his actions make sense now...

    I was thinking that Cameron's real issue was with the quality of his...err...available porn.

     

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  15.  
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    redrum, Sep 5th, 2013 @ 7:15am

    Great line!

    "We all have our own euphemisms for suckerpunching the clownfish but "research" doesn't rank too high on the list."

    Dude, that made me laugh my ass off! Happy Thursday to you sir.

    Mick

     

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  16.  
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    New Mexico Mark, Sep 5th, 2013 @ 7:16am

    Re: The key quote is this one

    My thoughts exactly. One the one hand, TD writers (wisely) point out the difficulty ISPs would face in identifying actual use with regard to IP, copyright, and trademark issues, even if they were trying to analyze the content requested. At least the same caution is warranted in this area.

    Monitoring devices (content filters, IDS/IPS) fire "porn" hits regularly, and most of those are nothing. (Medical searches, ads -- even if they don't pull down actual content, mixed-use sites, clicks on search results that try to take the user to unexpected places, all contribute to the background noise.)

    300,000 sounds like a huge number, and at first glance, it looks like Huff Post really "spanked" Parliament for misuse of government resources. However, assuming ~650 MPs and 3X that in staff, I'll (conservatively) estimate 2,000 hosts monitored for 14 months (~420 days). That's an average of 150 total events per host or less than one event every two days per host. Doesn't sound so dramatic now?

    More likely, the 80/20 rule applies and about 80 percent is cruft but there are a few people with way too much time on their hands. Without more meaningful analysis, the source article is way more spin than spank.

     

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  17.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 5th, 2013 @ 7:24am

    There is plenty of pop-ups linking to porn sites from some file-sharing sites. Might be that there are many people in the UK government who use those sites, and that would explain what that spokeswoman said.

     

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  18.  
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    mmrtnt (profile), Sep 5th, 2013 @ 7:25am

    Nudge, Nudge

    "Say no more..."

     

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  19.  
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    Drew, Sep 5th, 2013 @ 7:34am

    300,000 Times!? Now that's what I call a sticky situation!

     

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  20.  
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    Jeremy, Sep 5th, 2013 @ 7:34am

    Classification of websites is not reliable.

    At my company, I've hit "porn" sites numerous times, with NONE of them being actual porn.

    The ratings systems are being manipulated by people with political agendas, to say nothing of the actual mistakes made.

    At my work, this domain:
    http://www.accelrf.com/www/

    was once classified as pornography, and yes, I hit that site a few times.

     

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  21.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 5th, 2013 @ 8:16am

    Re: The key quote is this one

    Maybe everyone was looking for Scunthorpe to see if censors would pick it up.

     

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  22.  
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    Hephaestus (profile), Sep 5th, 2013 @ 9:30am

    Where David Cameron and porn is concerned I would have to say, The lady doth protest too much, methinks

     

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  23.  
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    gorehound (profile), Sep 5th, 2013 @ 12:22pm

    Re: Wait, his actions make sense now...

    UK Prime Minister David Cameron is so busy trying to stop the people around him from jerking off and playing with themselves he decided to just SHUT PORN DOWN !
    Except you never will................snicker !

    Who's your Daddy ?

     

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  24.  
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    That One Guy (profile), Sep 5th, 2013 @ 1:16pm

    Re: The key quote is this one

    So out of those 300K hits, how many were really porn sites and how many were false positives?

    Ah, but you see it doesn't matter, as the mandatory filter Cameron loves so much almost certainly has an equally abysmal accuracy rating, and I highly doubt they care how many are real, and how many are false positives.

    So if the government is going to claim that 'if it's on the list, it's porn', then it's only fair that they play by the same rules.

     

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  25.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 6th, 2013 @ 1:39am

    Re: What in the word "attempts" leads you to say:

    So let's get this straight - when the government uses taxpayer-funded machines to surf the same pornography they blame their citizens for viewing - you blame the citizens.

    You're one fucked up tool, that's what you are.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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