UK Porn Filter Blocks Porn Filter Advocate Claire Perry's Website [Updated]

from the inadvertent-perfection dept

The warnings were there from the very beginning. Installing any sort of internet filtering is doomed to fail. First, it's often easily circumvented. Second, it's never as accurate as its proponents claim it will be. Filtering overblocks, sealing off access to legitimate sites while simultaneously allowing targeted material to leak in around the edges.

The UK's national porn filter is already a failure, even before the mandatory 2014 implementation deadline. A single coder has created a Chrome extension that allows the blocked to circumvent the filter with ease by automating proxy access. The filter has also blocked off access to legitimate sex education sites as well as sites offering help to victims of rape and sexual abuse.

But the most fitting collateral damage has finally occurred. Tim Worstall at Forbes points out (via the Independent) that the overenthusiastic filter is sealing off access to the very people and entities who pushed so hard to make this catastrophe a reality.

"The opt-in filters also deny access to the Parliament and Government websites and the sites of politicians, including Claire Perry, the MP who has campaigned prominently for the introduction of filters."

Given what they do with our money I suppose you can indeed decide that Parliament and the Government are forms of pornography. But it’s that blocking of Claire Perry’s site that is just so joyous. For of course the blocking has come as a result of her using that very same site to campaign in favour of the filtering. Leading to her site having a heavy usage of the words “porn”, “sex” and the like and thus being taken to be itself pornographic.
Claire Perry's site being blocked is perhaps the most desirable outcome of this entire debacle. Perry has been a tireless crusader for the government control of the internet and now that she's achieved her goal, her own constituents aren't allowed to access her site. We'll see if Perry finds someone else to blame for this comedy of errors. Her grasp on how the web works seems to have been cobbled together from PM Cameron's assertions that "Google=internet" and mass forwarded technopanic emails.

Back in July, Perry's site was hacked and filled with pornographic images. Perry's response was to accuse the blogger that covered the story of hacking the site himself, or at the very least, "sponsoring" the attack. As the blogger wryly noted then, "At least her website will be blocked when the new rules go into effect…" Eerily prescient, even considering the cleanup effort that followed the discovery of porn on Perry's site.

As has been noted before, filters don't remove content. All they do is erect flimsy, indiscriminate walls that see legitimate and "illegitimate" content as virtually indistinguishable. If filters succeed in blocking unwanted content, it's only because they're equally as "willing" to block content that shouldn't be blocked. No filtering system can do the impossible, and yet do-gooding politicians get a lot of mileage out of claiming they can -- and that society will somehow be bettered by allowing the government to decide what it can and can't have access to.

UPDATE: Techdirt reader Duke points out that the filter blocking Perry's site isn't the mandatory "porn filters" that are being deployed by UK ISPs, but rather a "whitelist" filter crafted by O2.
This is a whitelist filter, unlike the new blacklist ones, so blocks every site apart from a few "approved" ones. Thus it is no surprise that it blocks any particular site as it blocks nearly all of them. This is a distinction that has been missed by most of the reporting in this area, including in both the Forbes article linked, and the Independent one it cites.



Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Rikuo (profile), Dec 30th, 2013 @ 1:49am

    I remember this quote from the PC game "Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri"

    "As the Americans learned so painfully in Earth's final century, free flow of information is the only safeguard against tyranny. The once-chained people whose leaders at last lose their grip on information flow will soon burst with freedom and vitality, but the free nation gradually constricting its grip on public discourse has begun its rapid slide into despotism. Beware of he who would deny you access to information, for in his heart he deems himself your master."
    — Comissioner Pravin Lal, "U.N. Declaration of Rights" (Accompanies completion of the Secret Project "The Planetary Datalinks")

     

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  2.  
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    That One Guy (profile), Dec 30th, 2013 @ 5:44am

    Live by the censorship, get silenced by the censorship

    I really, really hope that the ISP's that were strong-armed into implementing this technological disaster stick to their guns on this one, and refuse to white-list the sites of the politicians who suddenly find themselves on the other end of the censorship beat-stick. I probably give them to much credit with regards to honesty and intelligence, but maybe finding their own pages/sites effectively shut down by their own pet legislation will cause a few of them to consider the wisdom of such attempts at control in the future.

    And after all, as those that champion these kinds of things always claim, 'legitimate sites won't be blocked', so if the politicians find their own sites blocked, obviously they must be havens of the worst of the worst kinds of content, and so deserve to be not only blocked, but have a hugely visible page telling people that. /s

     

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  3.  
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    Josh in CharlotteNC (profile), Dec 30th, 2013 @ 6:22am

    First they came for the politicians, and no one cared.
    Next they came... oh, wait.
    The End.

     

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  4.  
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    Duke (profile), Dec 30th, 2013 @ 7:05am

    This is a different filter...

    Just to clarify, the filter which blocked Claire Perry's site isn't one of the new "Cameron Filters" (can we stop calling them porn filters, as they aren't designed to, nor were ever intended to, block just porn?), but O2's mobile Internet filter that has been around for years.

    This is a whitelist filter, unlike the new blacklist ones, so blocks every site apart from a few "approved" ones. Thus it is no surprise that it blocks any particular site as it blocks nearly all of them. This is a distinction that has been missed by most of the reporting in this area, including in both the Forbes article linked, and the Independent one it cites.

    Which isn't to say that the new Cameron Filters are good; they are slightly better, but as the Independent article noted:
    Other ISPs have faced criticism over their filters, with TalkTalk blocking sex education and rape crisis sites and BT denying access to a domestic abuse helpline.
    They're still blocking stuff they shouldn't be, but not as much.

    What's interesting about O2's filter isn't what it blocked, but the categories things were blocked under, and the distinctions between services. Google was allowed, but Bing wasn't, most newspapers were classified as "news", but the Daily Mail counted as "entertainment", most political parties were in the "politics" category, apart from the BNP website which was blocked as a "hate" site.

    At least, from what I could tell before O2 removed their filter-checking tool.

     

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  5.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 30th, 2013 @ 8:11am

    The big problem with filters is that the only truly accurate list of acceptable sites in the one that a person curates for themselves. Any filter at the ISP level will offend everybody, by either letting through content that they object to, and/or blocking content that they want.

     

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  6.  
    identicon
    Call me Al, Dec 30th, 2013 @ 8:16am

    Re:

    That is a marvellous quote and really very accurate when you look at the world today.

     

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  7.  
    identicon
    KoD, Dec 30th, 2013 @ 8:17am

    That is the governments self appointed job...

    Deciding what citizens can and cannot have access to seems to be the sole purpose of government these days. Soon parliment will be telling the Brits whether to fold or crumple their TP. Anyone who crumples is a degenerate and must certainly be filtered.

     

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  8.  
    identicon
    Baron von Robber, Dec 30th, 2013 @ 8:25am

    Re: That is the governments self appointed job...

    Death to the Bigenders!

     

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  9.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 30th, 2013 @ 8:42am

    Re: That is the governments self appointed job...

    Any organisation, whose position depends on what other believe will try to control what information other people have access to, so as to protect their position. This applies in particular to political parties and organised religions.

     

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  10.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 30th, 2013 @ 8:51am

    Re:

    there were so many great quotes in that game

     

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  11. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
     
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 30th, 2013 @ 8:53am

    You've been called a douchebag your whole life, haven't you Cushing?

     

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  12.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 30th, 2013 @ 9:07am

    Re:

    That is the case with any moderation. When that is said, there are good reasons to at least do some moderation (spam/virus infection vectors/non-accepted commercials a.o.).

    In this case the UK government goes way beyond the law in requiring third party blocking of moral objectionable content, which is more of a political overreach than a simple question of moderation.

    Sure the age-old moderation debacle will always be relevant for the specific blocking, but this is problematic on another level.

     

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  13.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 30th, 2013 @ 10:03am

    Re: Re:

    (spam/virus infection vectors/non-accepted commercials a.o.).

    The things that you list are all things that other people are trying to push on you. All suffer from false positives, which can cause problems for people, especially when a spam block-list blocks valid emails, and anti-virus kills your operating system. Further the ISP filter is prone to filter what you are searching for, and can be abused much more than the other blocks. The objective of censorship is to control what you see, so that the censor can control what you think or do.
    Having had experience of an ISP filter, T-Mobile UK, the most likely result of the filter is that most people will end up opting out, or bypassing the filter by using proxies because it will filter out one or two sites that they visit regularly.
    Anybody who thinks that the filter will not be used for silencing political dissent, if it becomes an accepted part of the Internet experience, has not been following the news.

     

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  14.  
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    SolkeshNaranek (profile), Dec 30th, 2013 @ 10:26am

    That delicious taste must be one of sweet, sweet irony.

     

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  15.  
    identicon
    Michael Whitetail, Dec 30th, 2013 @ 10:36am

    Re:

    I so totally read that in 'his' voice! I almost exculsively played as the U.N. In SMAC!

    *nostalgia bomb!*

     

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  16.  
    identicon
    Androgynous Cowherd, Dec 30th, 2013 @ 10:38am

    Plausible Deniability

    The warnings were there from the very beginning. Installing any sort of internet filtering is doomed to fail. First, it's often easily circumvented. Second, it's never as accurate as its proponents claim it will be. Filtering overblocks, sealing off access to legitimate sites while simultaneously allowing targeted material to leak in around the edges.


    Conveniently, the second issue helps a lot in a way. Specifically, it gives you plausible deniability as to why you circumvented a filter.

    "Oh, I didn't circumvent the filter to surf porn. It was erroneously blocking this breast cancer research site I needed to access. My restored ability to surf porn is just a happy side effect." :)

     

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  17.  
    identicon
    Androgynous Cowherd, Dec 30th, 2013 @ 10:53am

    Re: This is a different filter...

    Who in their right mind would sign up with an internet provider that did whitelisting? It's guaranteed that almost everything you realistically want to do online will be blocked by such an ISP, even if you stay away from NSFW stuff, politics, copyright infringement, and other "hot-button" stuff.

    Indeed, I wouldn't even call it a real Internet provider, since the real Internet is growing and open-ended. Would you consider access to a few very old, "optimized for NCSA Mosaic!" web sites to be real Internet access? Because that's where this O2 thing will be by 2020. Except that by 2020 O2 will be dead if it doesn't get its head out of its arse.

    Also: Why would they bother whitelisting Google, when their filter makes all search engines useless anyway? Their own directory of only the approved sites would be more useful. Of course, real Internet access would be more useful still. And that means obeying the end-to-end principle and the dumb-pipe principle.

    My own access is completely unfiltered and uncensored. I can go to any site I want to that has a functioning computer with an assigned IP address, without any mess, fuss, "opt-out"s, or circumventions. Everyone should have that ability. The UN should declare it a human right to have that ability.

     

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  18.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 30th, 2013 @ 11:13am

    Not to be picky but...

    For an update that changes the whole of the article rather than a small fix, I would prefer it placed at the top.

    Makes it easier to note the update before reading it and can help with potential misconceptions.

     

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  19.  
    identicon
    Bengie, Dec 30th, 2013 @ 11:17am

    Re:

    2013 most insightful quote finalist right here.

     

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  20.  
    icon
    Duke (profile), Dec 30th, 2013 @ 11:20am

    Re: Re: This is a different filter...

    Who in their right mind would sign up with an internet provider that did whitelisting?
    O2 isn't really an Internet provider (or wasn't when this block went into place many years ago); they're a phone provider, who happened to start providing people with mobile Internet through their phones. Given that mobile Internet was likely to be used by younger people when not being supervised, they put in place a default white-list filter that was fairly easy to disable (with proof of age), limited to various "approved" sites. With mobile Internet being as slow (and capped) as it was, this wasn't that big of a deal.

    Now that mobile Internet is much faster, cheaper and more widespread, this policy sounds slightly more crazy... but in the context it sort of made sense.

     

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  21.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 30th, 2013 @ 11:38am

    Re: Re: Re:

    There are more sides to the discussion than just you as a user getting "protected" against negative behaviours. If you own a site - which is the main perspective I was trying to convey - you probably want to keep those elements out of your site, somewhat for the users, somewhat for the rentability of your site, which are often, but not always, coming down to the same things.

    In contrast, an ISP-filter is moderating before reaching the destination site. Moderation at ISP-level is a troubling perspective for site owners since it is a N/A solution to much more complex problems. If you as a siteowner ends up on the list, the rentability of your site could tank, which is a very scary perspective...

    The specific problem is a political cause with no strong technical arguments for it and loads of examples of how random the specific solutions enforce the intentions. Unfortunately politics trumps experience and reason every time.

     

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  22.  
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    Richard (profile), Dec 30th, 2013 @ 11:55am

    Time for the Old C s Lewis quote

    “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”

    ― C.S. Lewis

     

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  23.  
    icon
    DV Henkel-Wallace (profile), Dec 30th, 2013 @ 12:24pm

    Re: This is a different filter...

    I know O2 is a mobile provider, but what you describe is the sans-nutrality future: Comcast will sell you a "basic" internet package that will get you access to Facebook, Google, Twitter, and NBC; a "teen" add-on that adds Tumblr and a few more (that teens won't even use probably); and various other add-on packages. Sorry, no netflix package for you!

     

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  24.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 30th, 2013 @ 2:06pm

    neither Perry or Cameron are, in my opinion, interested in 'protecting children' or anyone else for that matter. Perry's 'protect the children' is being used as an excuse, just like the entertainment industries themselves used it, so as to be able to try to block certain sites that have been deemed 'unacceptable' by the USA entertainment industries and others. Cameron cant do enough for his best buddy, Obama. i dread to think how the hell he'll get on when he loses the head of government position. the one other reason Cameron wants to get sites blocked (only when he says though!) is ready for the next wave of UK unrest. if i remember correctly, he tried to get the Blackberry service shut during the London riots a couple of years ago, so as to be able to stop organised riots. the thing to have stopped those from happening was to not give the people to want to riot in the first place, but then i am trying to use some sense!! it was the same over ACTA and i doubt if TAFTA/TIPP and TPP have lost the chance of similar protests, now the word is finally getting to the people of exactly what else is going to be taken away from them, just to preserve the way of life of a few legacy industry heads!

     

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  25.  
    identicon
    Anonymous, Dec 30th, 2013 @ 2:17pm

    What a revolting development. Caught in her own trap.
    LOL!

     

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  26.  
    identicon
    Jon Jones, Dec 30th, 2013 @ 2:26pm

    The porn filters are not "mandatory" The account owner can opt out.

     

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  27.  
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    Rikuo (profile), Dec 30th, 2013 @ 2:33pm

    Re: Not to be picky but...

    Yeah, I agree with you here AC. Updates should be at the start. Not everyone reads to the end of the article, and I have to confess that sometimes when I read the newspaper, I only ever read the headline and maybe sometimes the opening paragraph. Fortunately, I respect TD enough that I don't do that here.

     

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  28.  
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    Rikuo (profile), Dec 30th, 2013 @ 2:36pm

    Re:

    Until/if you opt out, they are mandatory, as in they come pre-switched on. Also, how many people are going to say to the ISP rep "Yes, Mr ISP Man, give me porn! Put my name in the Wants Porn database" (FYI, I myself wouldn't be embarrassed, but plenty of other people would).

     

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  29.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Dec 30th, 2013 @ 2:47pm

    Re:

    OK, "Almost mandatory," then. That's what opt-out really is.

     

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  30.  
    identicon
    Jon Jones, Dec 30th, 2013 @ 3:09pm

    Re: Re:

    If you can opt out then it isn't mandatory. Yes it is pre-switched on but it can be turned off. "Mandatory - "Required or commanded by authority; obligatory, compulsory, demanded by law"

    Plus you don't need to speak to anyone much less ask for porn. It's a simple page on your account asking if you want to access filtered material. Don't get me wrong I disagree with the whole thing on so many levels but lets stick the facts.

     

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  31.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 30th, 2013 @ 3:12pm

    Re: Re:

    I suspect that the problems with the filters will cause a lot of people to opt out. How many of sites that they know should not be filtered, because they visit them, need to be blocked before they choose to opt out?

     

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  32.  
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    Duke (profile), Dec 30th, 2013 @ 4:23pm

    Re: Re:

    If people would stop calling these things "porn filters" this wouldn't be so much of a problem.

    They have been (or are being) implemented voluntarily by only 4 UK ISPs, but cover a wide range of topics. Far from just porn. Calling up your ISP to say "I want access to information on alcohol, or bullying, or, in the case of the O2-filter, Government websites" should be far less awkward.

    However, with most of these filters (including at least the TalkTalk one) account holders can remove the filters online, through their account menu. No need to call someone up.

     

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  33.  
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    Richard (profile), Dec 30th, 2013 @ 4:33pm

    Justice Stings

    The words "hoist" and "petard" come to mind.

     

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  34.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 30th, 2013 @ 5:02pm

    Re:

    average_joe just hates it when due process is enforced.

     

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

  35.  
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    Sheogorath (profile), Dec 31st, 2013 @ 3:02am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Even worse than the false positives are the false negatives. I remember having T-Mobile's Web Guard on my first phone back when I was 17. Because Yahoo! Answers had been made unavailable by overblocking, I would just read stories on Kristen's Archives for something to do. My mum did eventually catch me, but instead of getting into trouble, I accompanied my dad to the T-Mobile store the next day while he got the Web Guard removed. The moral of the story is: Instead of relying on third party filtering, download and employ the tools of your choice. Only then can you really know what your children are accessing online. ;)

     

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  36.  
    identicon
    JBDragon, Dec 31st, 2013 @ 9:37am

    Re:

    For now!!! Just like it's only for PORN, for now!!!

     

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  37.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 31st, 2013 @ 10:29pm

    Mike seems to get the point that this is a bad idea but its failures are not a justification of its being a bad idea, the real reason is that censorship has negative consequences that are harmful to freedom and can be used to control the population against their will.
    Look at it this way, if it worked perfectly then this argument would be moot, would that suddenly make it a good idea?
    I would rather show why its actually a bad idea, not use its sloppy implementation as justification for dissolving it because in theory that can be fixed while ignoring the underlying reason why it should be in use.

     

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


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