Amtrak Lets You Surf The Web While Traveling, But Don't Try To Read Anything About Gay People

from the wtf? dept

The Maryland Juice blog has been following a story in which Montgomery County, Maryland’s local government has instituted an overly aggressive web filter for government employees, that seems to block all sorts of sites that mention things about gays or lesbians. And they’re not just doing sitewide blocking, but picking out news articles on the subject — suggesting that it’s not just a case of an overactive blacklist of sites, but a system that specifically blocks pages with words related to gays and lesbians. For example, a CNN article about a transgendered basketball player was completely blocked.

After getting some more info on this, the blogger at Maryland Juice noticed that there was WiFi on the Amtrak train he was on, and tried to check out another news site that someone told him had been blocked by the County… and discovered that Amtrak appeared to be blocking news about gays and lesbians, too:
This, of course, is one of the serious problems with any sort of plan for government mandated filters. They tend to significantly over-filter perfectly legitimate content that is protected free speech.

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Companies: amtrak

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Comments on “Amtrak Lets You Surf The Web While Traveling, But Don't Try To Read Anything About Gay People”

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171 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

As the picture shows, all it takes is a smartphone and a data plan to bypass this crap. Doesn’t make it okay by any stretch though. My offices “wired” connections block many items like facebook and the drudge report, but the wireless allows complete access to everything. How? I have no idea. I am a desk monkey.

abc gum says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“This story happen int the States not a communist country”

– Yes, I knew that but thanks for the heads up anyway.

“Using a proxies is perfectly legal their as it is in most countries”

– I would hope so. But I am not a lawyer, nor have I read up on this topic. You sound rather positive in your assertion, although I doubt you are a lawyer. It isn’t much of a stretch to imagine someone claiming proxy usage to be circumventing DRM which is, from what I’ve read, illegal. Therefore I think it is a legitimate question.

Anonymous Coward says:

This, of course, is one of the serious problems with any sort of plan for government mandated filters. They tend to significantly over-filter perfectly legitimate content that is protected free speech.

Do you actually have an argument? You say “of course” like your point is obvious. It’s not. Are you saying that this blocking is illegal? Unconstitutional? Why does over-filtering mean it’s a “serious problem”?

Without more, this really just comes across as a whiny, anti-government/establishment/authority hit piece from you.

Dark Helmet (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“Do you actually have an argument? You say “of course” like your point is obvious. It’s not. Are you saying that this blocking is illegal? Unconstitutional? Why does over-filtering mean it’s a “serious problem”?”

That’s right, gays. Your free homosexually fabulous ride is over. The wild gay west is going away, so back in the closet with you queens. No more discussing form-fitting jeans and color coordinate shoe-shirt outfits on our interwebz. It makes us fat, ugly, styleless hetero types itchy….

Anonymous Poster says:

Re: Re:

It’s neither illegal or unconstitutional — Amtrak is free to block whatever site they want with their filters — but it’s the Scunthorpe Problem that they face: in putting a filter in place to cover content that might be controversial or obscene (to some), there’s a high probability that content that isn’t will get caught in the same filter. The best example is filtering the word “breast”; sure, the filter will catch a fair number of porn sites, but it might also accidentally block pages discussing breast cancer or similar subjects.

There’s also the issue that the word being filtered in the photo — “transgendered” — makes it look like Amtrak is targeting the LGBT community (or at least the “T” portion of it) for filtering. That’s not the best image to be presenting in this day and age, and it’s a PR disaster waiting to happen.

Amtrak isn’t doing anything illegal or unconstitutional. They’re just doing something really stupid.

Anonymous Poster says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I wouldn’t. Amtrak is merely providing a filtered access point to the Internet; it isn’t stopping people from using other access points, it isn’t trying to take down the content, and it isn’t trying to stop someone from speaking their mind in any way.

If Amtrak was actively blocking people from speaking their mind, then I would say that it’s violating the First Amendment. Given that the photo above shows that it’s possible for anyone with an alternate access point to the Internet can see the content that’s being filtered, however, I stand by my original statement: Amtrak is just doing something really stupid.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:7 Re:

Nice find! No, that case has not been overturned.

That case settles the issue of whether the First Amendment applies to Amtrak (it does): “Facing the question of Amtrak’s status for the first time, we conclude that it is an agency or instrumentality of the United States for the purpose of individual rights guaranteed against the Government by the Constitution.” Lebron v. Nat’l R.R. Passenger Corp., 513 U.S. 374, 394 (1995).

That still leaves the issue of whether these filters violate the First Amendment. I’m sure there’s good arguments on both sides…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I make the argument that it is unconstitutional, given that they are government employees, bound to the Constitution and thus, the First Amendment. If this were a private corporation, then they wouldn’t be.

The First Amendment requires Amtrak to give unimpeded access to the totality of the internet to its patrons? How do you figure?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

No, but I would argue that it cannot filter ‘transgender,’ ‘gay,’ or ‘lesbian’ merely because it makes them uncomfortable. There are actually laws about discrimination on the books, you realize.

Good point. But I’m assuming the government interests here are more legitimate than that.

John says:

Re: Re: Re:

Actually, since it is a GOVERNMENT run agency it is violating first amendment rights. That whole first amendment is such a pain in the ass for the government now isn’t it. A PRIVATE company has the right to block whatever it wants, the government has a stronger burden, especially when it is blocking information of its customers (rather than employees)

Rikuo (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Oh for the love of…
Is there seriously a mental disconnect with you? Mike has long made the argument that censorship is wrong, so if you’re a regular reader, then yes his point is obvious.
Is the blocking illegal? I…actually dunno about that…but I think that being employees of the government (whether local or federal level doesn’t matter, they’re still bound by the constitution), they’re bound by the First Amendment. Blocking websites simply because they mention “lesbian, transgender” etc does go against the First Amendment.
Over-filtering…the word should explain itself. An automated filter that, in theory only blocks harmful content, will inevitably filter harmless content. In this case, the intent was probably to stop the employees looking up gay porn (the only intent I can see making any kind of sense), but the filter…over-filtered and is now blocking legitimate news articles.

I think the reason Mike didn’t expound on the unconstitutional/illegality points is because he assumed that his readers would be able to figure that out for themselves. Instead, your comment…all it does is prove how moronic you are. You’re badmouthing Mike here when all he’s done is write an article about how bad censorship is in in practice.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

I think the problem is Mike is approaching the censorship issue as if it is somehow illegaly, which it is not.

Amtrak offers a “limited access” internet facility, subject to whatever filtering it sees fit. If you don’t like it, don’t use it. They are filtering out keywords that may cause issues, such as people openly surfing porn sites in the train (and yes,people will do it).

They filter out penis too,I bet, and that “marginalizes” anyone with a penis. I don’t think this is an attack or a slight against the transgender community. Does anyone have any proof that it is?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Two things. First, Amtrak is owned by the government (much like the post office) and is therefore acting as a government agent.

Second, while the slight may be unintentional you someone has decided that the word transgender is “bad” and should therefor be blocked. You would probably feel slighted if a word used to describe you was blocked (maybe Irish? poor? ugly?)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

It is unfortunate for certain communities that the name that they use to describe themselves is also a very common porn term. I am suspecting sadly that terms like “lesbian” and “transgender” are caught in the magic of a porn filter, and nothing more.

As for the rest of your second, perhaps you should keep the insults to yourself, you poor ugly irish fool.

Rikuo (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Do you know what I love about this comment? I am poor (relatively, I have a job albeit pretty much bottom of the barrel); I have certainly never been called pretty; I am Irish born and bred; and there have been plenty of times where I have been foolish.
Now, I know you weren’t insulting ME specifically, but since your insult does actually describe me pretty well…I just thought to chime in. ^^

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

That’s not the implication I got from the article. What I got was that Mike is approaching the censorship issue as if it is wrong. Legality is beside the point in his presentation.

That might be what Mike’s point was–it’s kind of hard to say since Mike didn’t really say. Personally, I think the legal/constitutional issue is more interesting than whether this is subjectively “wrong” or a “good idea.”

Assuming Mike’s point was that this is “wrong,” then where is the explanation of why it’s wrong? Is all filtering wrong? Or only certain words? Etc. My criticism of this article is that, well, there’s no criticism or analysis on Mike’s part.

Rikuo (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Huh…I guess you do have a point there. In Mike’s defense, the only reason I can see for why he didn’t do an in-depth analysis is that he’s done so plenty of times before in other articles and just didn’t feel the need to do so this time. Think about it…wouldn’t you feel sick of constantly having to repeat yourself time and time again?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

I don’t just say the opposite of what Mike says. Give me a break. If Mike has an argument as to why this is indicative of a “serious problem,” he sure has kept it to himself. My criticism is that Mike does this generally. He points to one little thing, out of context and without analysis, and then thinks it proves some bigger point. The world doesn’t work that way, and such black and white thinking is really sophomoric, to put it nicely.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Re:

“This, of course, is one of the serious problems with any sort of plan for government mandated filters. They tend to significantly over-filter perfectly legitimate content that is protected free speech.”

“Do you actually have an argument? You say “of course” like your point is obvious. It’s not. Are you saying that this blocking is illegal? Unconstitutional? Why does over-filtering mean it’s a “serious problem”?”

The serious problem would be that government mandated filters tend to be overzealous and block legitimate content in violation of the first amendment.

Do you not think that blocking legitimate speech is a serious problem? Is that just an oh well life goes on kind of problem?

A quick google search for “government filter fail”: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_censorship_in_Australia
http://www.fepproject.org/factsheets/filtering.html
shows why people who follow this kind of stuff know that filters, especially those instituted by a bureaucracy and/or filtering large and diverse user groups, tend to be problematic. If your work has a filter and it has problems you call an IT guy to fix it, if your local government starts filtering based on politically sensitive buzzwords is there someone you can call when they discriminate against entire sub-cultures?

I think the greater point he is looping back to is that the government can’t be trusted to set up the walls on the internet which kind of a reoccurring theme around here and not something he needs to reexplain in every post.

However, as you say this post does not have a lot of research, its basically a ‘his own words’ repost of a story from elsewhere. So maybe he purposely isn’t jumping to conclusions and prepared to lambaste this specific event of filtering and would rather just make the point that filters tend to fail and are generally not successful, not to mention they have a habit of blocking legitimate speech. If you want examples you have google in front of you, also if you have a counter example of when a government enforced filter did its job perfectly and did not cause any protected speech to be blocked I would love for you to share it with the class.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Re:

No matter the “filter fail” that you highlight, the opposite is equally risky.

If you don’t filter (say to block porn), then you allow all members of the public (including minors) to be exposed to it as the less subtle members of the community decide that commute time is a good time to enjoy the latest piece of bukkake porn from Japan, on their widescreen macbook.

In my mind, it is better to deny access ” in case” rather than waiting for the lawsuits on the other side. Pervs enjoying their porn in plain view of everyone is for me many times worse than a transgender person who can’t happen to access their community website through a free, bonus internet service. Remember, no warranties expressed or implied here!

Togashi (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:7 Re:

But what if someone has the latest piece of bukkake porn saved on their widescreen macbook? Maybe we should also ban viewing video files on the train, because they might be porn. After all, pervs enjoying their porn is many times worse than a person who can’t happen to watch their favorite movie on a long, boring train ride, right?

Why not just make people agree to “I will not watch porn on this train” statements when they connect? Does away with nasty filtering things like this and should save them from most lawsuits.

Jay (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:7 Re:

In my mind, it is better to deny access ” in case” rather than waiting for the lawsuits on the other side. Pervs enjoying their porn in plain view of everyone is for me many times worse than a transgender person who can’t happen to access their community website through a free, bonus internet service. Remember, no warranties expressed or implied here!

… Right, the concept of “collateral damage” seems lost on you.

hothmonster says:

Re: Re: Re:7 Re:

So a minor given a laptop and no parental supervision is only going to be able to find porn on the train? If you have given your child a internet ready device and sent them into the world you are pretty much giving them license to look at porn, or anything else.

As far as this filter being effective I guarantee I could pull some porn up in under 5 minutes. So if the train you ride is full of perverts who need to jerk in public this isn’t going to stop them. It is causing a lot of collateral damage though.

Not to mention, again, your train full of perverts is still free to use 3G, so if said train does exist I would recommend standing room.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I give you the first amendment..

“”Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.””

It seems pretty clear to me that the constitution forbids the government from clamping down on protected free speech.

If I had to guess, the filtering software was misapplied by either the contractor or government employee during the roll out and would expect this to change soon. As you really cant explain this one away.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

I give you the first amendment.. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” It seems pretty clear to me that the constitution forbids the government from clamping down on protected free speech. If I had to guess, the filtering software was misapplied by either the contractor or government employee during the roll out and would expect this to change soon. As you really cant explain this one away.

The First Amendment isn’t absolute. The government “clamps down” on protected free speech all the time. So obviously just saying “First Amendment” doesn’t resolve the constitutional issue.

Public libraries block access to porn. First Amendment violation? Not necessarily:

Most libraries already exclude pornography from their print collections because they deem it inappropriate for inclusion. We do not subject these decisions to heightened scrutiny; it would make little sense to treat libraries’ judgments to block online pornography any differently, when these judgments are made for just the same reason.

Moreover, because of the vast quantity of material on the Internet and the rapid pace at which it changes, libraries cannot possibly segregate, item by item, all the Internet material that is appropriate for inclusion from all that is not. While a library could limit its Internet collection to just those sites it found worthwhile, it could do so only at the cost of excluding an enormous amount of valuable information that it lacks the capacity to review. Given that tradeoff, it is entirely reasonable for public libraries to reject that approach and instead exclude certain categories of content, without making individualized judgments that everything they do make available has requisite and appropriate quality.

United States v. Am. Library Ass’n, Inc., 539 U.S. 194, 208 (2003).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

READ. READ BEFORE COMMENTING.

Amtrak, as a government owned company, is a government agent according to the Supreme Court and thus is required to uphold the First Amendment. While they may be able to justify (as libraries did) some form of filtering, I doubt it would be acceptable for them to block CNN.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Amtrak, as a government owned company, is a government agent according to the Supreme Court and thus is required to uphold the First Amendment. While they may be able to justify (as libraries did) some form of filtering, I doubt it would be acceptable for them to block CNN.

Does the First Amendment require Amtrak to give its passengers access to CNN? I having trouble seeing how that’s so.

Rikuo (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

*Bangs head against wall* Seriously, are you disagreeing for the sake of disagreeing? Of course the First Amendment requires access to CNN!
Here’s how to think this through.
1) Court case establishes that Amtrak is subject to the First Amendment – Lebron v. Nat’l R.R. Passenger Corp., 513 U.S. 374, 394 (1995).
2) First Amendment says you have a right to free speech. It was written by the Founding Fathers who didn’t want the free speech rights of the news press to be blocked.
3) CNN is a news organization. The press. First Amendment means that CNN shouldn’t be blocked.
4) Amtrak however blocks CNN articles. Therefore, it’s violating the First Amendment.

V says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Re:

So if Amtrak denies service to black people, you’re ok with it because they had no obligation to offer service to people in the first place?

That’s the thing: when you open a business, you’re making profit thanks to the public. As a result, you have obligations towards the public. Hence, if you choose to offer internet access in order to do business, you must be prepared to deal with such responsibilities as respecting free speech.
If you don’t like it, you’re free to enrich yourself on your own, without relying on others (i.e. build your own tools, home, car, etc.).
The Constitution is meaningless if it isn’t applied in every aspect of society.

But it might make you feel better to know that it could be wrose. In Europe, even ‘private’ businesses must respect the constitution, with a few (astonishing) exceptions (i.e. night clubs). For instance, a store can’t kick you out because they don’t like what is written on your t-shirt. As I understand, in the USA, they can.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Re:

> The Constitution is meaningless if it isn’t applied in
> every aspect of society.

But it’s not applied to every aspect of society. The 1st Amendment only prohibits censorship by the government. If Amtrak wasn’t a quasi-governmental entity and was like any other business, the 1st Amendment wouldn’t apply at all.

Take a hotel, for example. Hotels now routinely provide Internet access for their guests. However, if a hotel decides to censor and block information/websites, it’s free to do so. As a private business, the 1st Amendment does not apply to them.

So no, the Constitution is not meaningless because it is not applied across every aspect of society.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Re:

> The Constitution is meaningless if it isn’t applied in
> every aspect of society.

But it’s not applied to every aspect of society. The 1st Amendment only prohibits censorship by the government. If Amtrak wasn’t a quasi-governmental entity and was like any other business, the 1st Amendment wouldn’t apply at all.

Take a hotel, for example. Hotels now routinely provide Internet access for their guests. However, if a hotel decides to censor and block information/websites, it’s free to do so. As a private business, the 1st Amendment does not apply to them.

So no, the Constitution is not meaningless because it is not applied across every aspect of society.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Re:

> The Constitution is meaningless if it isn’t applied in
> every aspect of society.

But it’s not applied to every aspect of society. The 1st Amendment only prohibits censorship by the government. If Amtrak wasn’t a quasi-governmental entity and was like any other business, the 1st Amendment wouldn’t apply at all.

Take a hotel, for example. Hotels now routinely provide Internet access for their guests. However, if a hotel decides to censor and block information/websites, it’s free to do so. As a private business, the 1st Amendment does not apply to them.

So no, the Constitution is not meaningless because it is not applied across every aspect of society.

btr1701 says:

Re: Censors

> Without more, this really just comes across as an anti-
> government/establishment/authority hit piece

So? Any government in the US that presumes to censor the sort of things that Maryland and Amtrak are censoring (for our own good, of course– they always know what’s best for us to see and read, don’t they?) deserves to have its establishment questioned and its authority challenged.

BeeAitch (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“Do you actually have an argument?” Yes.

“Are you saying that this blocking is illegal?” Possibly. Probably, though IANAL.

“Unconstitutional?” Most definitely, though, again, IANAL.

“Why does over-filtering mean it’s a “serious problem”?” It is a serious problem because it is probably illegal, and definitely unconstitutional. I realize you’re kind of slow, but, DUH.

:Lobo Santo, imho, rated your troll too high. I give it a C- at best (and that’s only because I’m taking your low IQ into consideration).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

It is only not obvious to the ignorant, every IT person out there knows filters block things they shouldn’t all the time.

That is why people go after them when any government tries to put them in place, because of the high rate of false positives, coupled with poor thought laws that have no mechanism to make it transparent or easy to correct problems.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“You say “of course” like your point is obvious”

Erm, yes it is actually. You’re asking for a clarification of the implications of his point, but his basic point – filters tend to block legitimate speech – is sound and backed by many years of evidence.

“Without more, this really just comes across as a whiny, anti-government/establishment/authority hit piece from you.”

As opposed to an AC who defends anything so long as he can “score” a few points by attacking Mike. Yeah… you’re the real hero here…

Anonymous Retort says:

Re:

The point is only unobvious to yourself. This person is saying that internet filters block legitimate content. Thus, government-mandated internet filters would block legitimate content as a course of law. Hence, this would equate a government-mandated inhibition of protected free speech.

Reading is, like, totally hard.

Anonymous Coward says:

I’d hate to admit it, but I have to agree with the thought that this post does come across as “jumping the gun”.

It isn’t uncommon for filters, government or private, to black sites based on keywords. IT doesn’t have all day to sit around browsing google for porn sites to block by url alone, so they tag a bunch of keywords and unblock sites found to be innocent. Happens all the time at work.

Anonymous Poster says:

Re: Re:

That makes for a different problem: the people who build these filters automatically assume that “transgender” might be just for porn. Never mind that there might be transgender support groups on the ‘Net — nope, whenever people look up “transgender”, it’s just for porn!

It’s that sort of attitude that helps to marginalize the transgender community (and the LGBT community as a whole), and it’s ridiculous.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Yeah, except for when somebody somewhere who isn’t net savy accidentally stumbles upon such content and sues.

It’s ridiculous until it costs somebody a few grand or million.

And not for nothing, but it’s a public access wifi controlled by a private company. They’re well within the rights to filter whatever keywords they see fit.

Don’t like? Don’t use.

Anonymous Poster says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Why would they get sued? Amtrak isn’t providing Internet content, they’re merely providing the access point to the Internet itself. I don’t see how any reasonable person would think that Amtrak is responsible for some goof mistyping a URL and getting a porn site instead of a news site.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

And not for nothing, but it’s a public access wifi controlled by a private company. They’re well within the rights to filter whatever keywords they see fit.

I wonder how much longer this type of “logic” can last. As portions of the government are increasingly privatized (for example: prisons, roads, administrative offices, utility providers, etc.) are we really going to allow corporations to violate rights that the government cannot? Imagine if the post office refused to deliver your mail because it contained content that they don’t like (it is after all a “private entity”, although the court has already made clear it isn’t “really” a private entity).

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

> I wonder how much longer this type of “logic” can last.

Hopefully for quite a while, otherwise it will sound the death knell for private property rights in the US.

First and foremost, it will take a constitutional amendment to change it, not just a change in ‘logic’.

The language in the 1st Amendment is clear in that it only prohibits censorship by the government. No way around it other than to amend it, and good luck with getting momentum behind the idea of mucking about with the Bill of Rights.

Second, if a duty to abide by the 1st Amendment is imposed on private
property owners, there may as well not be private property anymore. The day I have no other recourse but to allow some Occupy Wall Street protester, for example, to camp out on my front lawn (or even inside my house) because it’s his 1st Amendment right to do so is the day I (and everyone else) essentially cedes ownership and control over everything we have to the government.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

> You whole bit was about the private property of an individual.

Private property is private property. Property is either privately owned or publicly owned by the government.

> I’m talking about “corporations”, i.e. business open to the public.

Most corporations aren’t open to the public, even those that may have retail outlets.

Head on up to Microsoft or Apple or Exxon and see how far you get inside as a member of the public.

Try again?

Butcherer79 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

As another analogy, I used to work on a USAF base in England, I’m presuming that’s government owned, and they had bars run by AAFES (all the employees were hired by AAFES at any rate) they only offered 6 different beers, which means they were ‘filtering’ all the other beers available worldwide from their customers (Army/Air Force & their families).
Is this also unconstitutional, should those bars be stopped from offering any beer because they cannot offer all beers?

I completely agree with the whole free speech/land of the free arguments in general, but isn’t this going a little OTT?
I understand that you have the right to look up what you want on tinterweb, but as far as I know, this company isn’t bound by any constitunal requirement to give you any internet access, can’t you just accept the incredibly limited internet it does give you as a bit of a freebie?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Your beer analogy is the rambling of a retarded person and has no bearing on this conversation.

No, it isn’t over the top, no government agent should be filtering access to the internet. I would rather Amtrak didn’t offer internet service at all than that they offer a filtered service. More importantly, why was the service filtered in the first place? It isn’t like they offered the service unfiltered, had a problem, and then put filters in place. No, just right off the bat they started discriminating against a minority segment of the population … classy.

Butcherer79 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

“I would rather Amtrak didn’t offer internet service at all than that they offer a filtered service.”

Sounds like cutting your nose off to spite your face if you ask me.
But thanks for the initial insult, I shall add it to my collection, filed under U for ‘unwarranted’.

I don’t think it’s discrimination, just a poorly constructed filter.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Re:

I don’t think it’s discrimination, just a poorly constructed filter.

It’s pretty clear that thinking isn’t your strong suit. In a court case intention might matter in determining the punishment for a civil action but either way the discrimination still happened. It doesn’t matter if they were being malicious or just incompetent, either way it needs to be addressed.

If you want to argue in colloquialisms, give them an inch and they’ll take a mile. Would you be so complacent if the filter was for the word “religion” or “jesus”? What would they have to filter before you thought it was inappropriate? The government should never be permitted to filter speech except where specific rules have been carved out by the Supreme Court (and i don’t even agree with all of those, but at least they are legal).

Butcherer79 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Re:

To be honest, they could filter all they want, if I find it intrusive to what I want to view, I won’t use their free service.

Also, their not filtering ‘speech’ their filtering viewing, the old fella (Voltaire wasn’t it?) didn’t say “I don’t agree with what you’re looking at but I will defend to the death your right for you to do so” did he?

From Wiki:
Discrimination is the prejudicial treatment of an individual based on their membership in a certain group or category. It involves the actual behaviors towards groups such as excluding or restricting members of one group from opportunities that are available to another group. The term began to be used as an expression of derogatory racial prejudice in the 1830s from Thomas D. Rice’s performances as “Jim Crow”.

They are not treating gay people differently in this case, they’re treating anyone who wants to view a site containing certain words which relate to gay relationships. Or are you too obtuse to realise that ‘straight’ people can and do look at sites containing these words (oh the horror).
So no, it’s not discriminatory.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:7 Re:

such as excluding or restricting members of one group from opportunities that are available to another group

So … how is that not exactly what is happening here?

While there are certainly straight people who look at gay related news, blocking a word like transgender would mean at least 20 gay news sties are not available. How do you not understand that you are discriminating against gay people when you block them from communicating?

Butcherer79 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:8 Re:

“So … how is that not exactly what is happening here?”

because they are not excluding or restricting members of a certain group, they’re restricting everyone, regardless of colour, creed or sexual orientation, this is not discrimination.

You are not blocking anyone from communicating, only from accessing the sites that this filter has blocked. You can communicate through a vast array of mediums online (skype, facebook, msn to name a few) they are not blocking those.

Oh, and I appreciate the lack of insults in your last two posts.

Butcherer79 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

“Your beer analogy is the rambling of a retarded person and has no bearing on this conversation.”

So something that is government owned filtering the options to its customers has no bearing on Amtrak (government owned?) filtering the internet options to it’s customers?
I can see now, those two are miles apart.

Butcherer79 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Re:

I’m merely putting the point accross that ‘filtering’ happens all over the place and that a free service that a company wants to give to it’s customers should not be taken away merely because of a poorly constructed filter.
Also, I make my point without insulting (intentionally at least). If it makes you feel you have a more valid point by throwing insults at another, then by all means carry on, however misguided your actions may be.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:7 Re:

free service that a company wants to give to it’s customers

And were back at the beginning of your logic circle. Amtrak isn’t a “company offering a free service to it’s customers”. Amtrak is a government agent blocking free speech. I’ll bring it back around to the original point.

Would the post office be allowed to filter mail? Because they have the same relationship to the federal government as Amtrak, a government owned private corporation.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

> the anti-Federalists really wanted to make sure
> that you could say anything you want, as long as
> it didn’t offend anyone.

You’d be surprised how little they cared about the possibility of people being offended.

This hysteria over the idea that we have to constantly guard against the possibility that someone somewhere might be offended by something is a curiously modern phenomenon.

> That’s the point of the 1st Amendment, right?

No, not even close.

Anonymous Coward says:

“They tend to significantly over-filter perfectly legitimate content that is protected free speech.”

If you give unlimited access someone’s kid will eventually stumble upon porn and the parents will sue Amtrak. The best advice I can give them, take down the wifi service altogether. That way no one gets butt hurt and whines about it, and you aren’t exposing yourself to liablity cases.

Jeffrey Nonken (profile) says:

I recall hearing that AOL used to censor the word “breast”. It caused a bit of problem for women who wanted to discuss breast cancer issues.

Apparently “breast cancer” is obscene.

Also apparently so is the nickname “Dick”. If you want to discuss Richard Nixon, god forbid you mention his nickname. Or the actor whose last name is Van Dyke. (Could be a double-whammy if AOL had decided that “dyke” was obscene too, as it obviously denotes lesbianism, which we all know is inherently obscene. Like breast cancer and breastfeeding.)

The good news is that AOL is ancient history. But FB is doing their best to pick up the banner regarding photographs.

Anonymous Coward says:

The problem is that the blacklist for keywords needs to whitelist URLs or else cnn articles will get caught in the mix.

I ran a retailers website that was blocked from the company I used to work at. The block was a filter run by a 3rd party. Contacted the third party, they investigated and added a whitelist for the retailers website.

I agree with Mike, filters, especially on Amtrak, need to be a bit more diligent in allowing sites to be accessed. As can be seen in the photo, all it takes is a wireless phone to circumvent. So what good is that?

Why would Amtrak want to filter what someone can access on a wireless broadband connection? (I would expect porn and phishing sites to be blocked, but not the rest)

Where I work now, nothing is blocked. I think they trust us a smidge more.

Anonymous Coward says:

Sorry, Amtrack is not government, can do what they want

As long as Amtrack is not the government, they can do what they want – they are the ones paying for and providing the Internet…

Sure it may be “unpopular” or “unfortunate” that “gay stuff” is blocked, or even “porn” is blocked, but then go read it somewhere else, nobody is really stopping you here.

AdamR (profile) says:

“As long as Amtrack is not the government, they can do what they want – they are the ones paying for and providing the Internet…”

Our tax dollars are going to keep Amtrak running, so no they can’t do anything they feel like doing. Blocking Gay and Lesbian sites can be viewed as discrimination and such opens them up to lawsuits. You can discriminate against people sexual orientation, lick blocking them from any type loans, housing or job opportunity’s.

Anonymous Coward says:

I really don’t understand the problem here. From an admin perspective, we are expected to protect passing people from seeing something offensive on someone elses PC. Maybe the proxy filter is a little over agressive, but it’s not Amtrak making a stand against the G/L community. It’s a filter that’s having a tough time distinguishing an article about a transgender person and someone browsing to Gaydarradio.com.

With proxy servers, you should always err on the side of caution. Get over this one, techdirt.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Government agents are required to uphold the constitution.

Amtrak, as a government owned corporation, has the same responsibility.

How about we stop Latino people from riding on the train? After all, I would be really super extra offended if my child ever saw a Latino person, so why shouldn’t Amtrak keep them off. They should err on the side of caution, probably most people don’t want to ride with Latinos.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

With proxy servers, you should always err on the side of caution.

I agree, but in reverse. When you’re filtering in a setting like this, you should err on the side of caution by only filtering out things which are clearly and obviously unacceptable content. This means some things get by the filter unintentionally, but that’s less harmful than things getting unintentionally blocked.

In other words, blacklists, not keyword searches.

Jesse Townley (profile) says:

Remember, it's not just Amtrak

It’s also a county government in Maryland too. That’s what led to this newstory.

Look, Amtrak is a government agency a la the Post Office that’s run as a “private” business. It’s still public.

So is the county government.

Both are wrong to install these automatic filters since they block a lot of constitutionally-protected press & speech.

Did you notice that the example they gave are NEWS stories? That’s preventing access to the press, as well.

Anonymous Coward says:

Amtrak is offering wifi as an incentive to buy tickets and ride their lousy trains. Government funding or not, they don’t have to offer it. If you don’t like it, don’t use it.

Keyword filtering is poor-man’s filtering. Real web filters cost a lot of money to operate. Amtrak is poor and I’m sure they are trying to just keep unpleasant situations at a minimum- like some guy jerkin’ it to youporn in the seat across from you on your ride from Philly to Washington.

Cloksin (profile) says:

Bad Filters

Its funny that this post would be made today. Earlier today, when I first got to work, I tried to click in the crystal box on the link for the post about Nintendo.

Because where I work they are so overly opposed to social networking sites twitter is blocked, as well as facebook. But because the people in charge of setting up the filters have no idea what their doing Mike’s article about Nintendo was blocked because the word Twitter was in the title.

I did a simple test and it turns out that here at my work if you type the word twitter into google and hit the search button, all the results are filtered as well.

Togashi (profile) says:

Re: Bad Filters

This reminds me of a text/image based game I played on the web back in high school. I’d pull it up on the computers between class and some of the club meetings after school, and most of the game was fine, but I couldn’t go to the page where you make cocktails. Not because of alcohol-related content, though… “Keyword found: cock”.

out_of_the_blue says:

First, let's nail down facts: Amtrak and Postal Service /are/ gov't.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amtrak

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Postal_Service

But there’s NO “Post Office” any more: it’s been fascist-ized into the “Postal Service”.

That said, Amtrak trains are a /public/ space, and your grandmother’s sensibilities DO apply if only as lowest common denominator. Wi-fi is an optional service in no degree necessary for the trains as such, so it’s pure gravy: enjoy having SOME rather than none. Being a public space and a frill, even though Amtrak IS gov’t, I’ve no objection to their filtering, far as Mike says it goes (he’s so often wrong that I must hedge). — Public gov’t libraries also filter and block, and though I don’t like it in theory, in practice I don’t get exercised about it. Not a slippery slope, it’s a dam against a certain flood of indecency. With the lapse of politesse in public, it’s more likely that I’d be annoyed by surfers than by not being able to get the latest news on “teh gay” or even them there less-beans.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: First, let's nail down facts: Amtrak and Postal Service /are/ gov't.

“But there’s NO “Post Office” any more: it’s been fascist-ized into the “Postal Service”.”

I agree, because fascists love to include the word “service” in the name of their organization. Blue, I love your special brand of crazy, its like watching a monkey caught in a hand trap. asped fruit in a t

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Re:

> I think all websites should be filtered for
> government workers. We pay them to work, not
> surf the web.

Until the next assassination or something along those lines, when people like you will be clamoring for the reasons why the Secret Service didn’t know anything about the assassin–“He had his own website where he ranted about his plans, for god’s sake!”– and when the USSS says, “Well, we might have known about that site but for the geniuses that pushed for all government employees to be cut off from the Internet,” fools like you will be the ones hypocritically screaming the loudest about how stupid that is.

Anonymous Coward says:

I think if they also searched “breasts” it would also be blocked.

I know from first hand experience filters are a nightmare because unless you have a person who knows how to set them up properly and handle requests they are a nightmare to manage.

Second there might be an arguement towards children going on, just a thought because there are those that will play the “think of the children angle.”

Another thought, and this is what I don’t like when I read these articles what else is censored? Cherry picking one term doesn’t prove anything. I had a friend who worked in government and he couldn’t go to Firing Squad because of the word firing. I know for a fact that filters don’t single out one group and one group only in 9 out of 10 cases in public.

I’m not even going to go down the they have the legal right route. If you think they are wrong sue/challenge them. But I bet you are going to find they are filtering more then just those words pointed out in the article.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

You can try to filter my existence from the web, but I’m still here.
You can try to blame all of the ills of society on me, but I don’t have that much power.

If we were having this discussion backwards in time the descriptor of the offending group would be italians, irish, germans, jews, blacks, and a long list of people you feel a moral right in trying to have control over them.

You really need to stop trying to pretend we are just a fad you can try to outlast. We’ve been here as long as there has been society. We exist in nature. But because your religious teachings preach to love one another except when you need a scape goat to blame you feel the need to try and erase me. How many times has one of your “religious” leaders who screamed the loudest about how we are immoral and wrong has been caught breaking 1 of the 10 commandments? How many times while they try to call for the demons to be cast out of us have you caught them slipping away to do what I do? The tenet of “Judge not lest ye be Judged”, is your life and actions that pure?

You need someone to hate, to feel better than, to control and hold down. What does that say about you?

One of your largest religious organizations has and continues to protect pedophiles who use the cloth to molest, and the bigger issue is someone seeing a webpage with the word gay on it? To steal your battle cry, won’t someone think of the children?

Anonymous penetrated a darknet and took out major CP websites, and our leaders waste time spending money to make sure someone won’t be offended by a story about a transgender person on dancing with the stars. Which should be the bigger priority.

If you don’t want to see gays or the things they do, pluck out your eyes. We are all around you all the time. The things we do are all around you all the time. Your surrounded, you can’t will us away or round us all up and send us to an island – Gitmo is still full.

Its time we learn to accept there are things in reality we might not like, but trying to stick your fingers in your ears saying LALALALALALA does nothing but annoy others. Don’t want to read a story about teh gays, don’t click the link but do not try to stuff us back into the virtual closet.

TaCktiX says:

Re: Re:

Forgive me if this is trolling, but why the long tirade about the faults of religious people? The article didn’t mention a fundamentalist angle at all, only noted a filter that was going overboard.

To be fair, I’m just as irritated about religious fundamentalism as you are, and I’m a Christian. There are plenty of things I don’t agree with, but trying to use government as a big huge club to “fix them” will solve nothing.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

The most common justification against gay people is “the Bible says it is wrong”. The most common people demanding filters and something be done have a religious reason for them pushing.

This often covers up the fear many small minded men have that they are so wonderful a gay person will fall for them and just jump them. Your not that hot, and just as you manage to not try and hump the leg of every pretty girl who walks by we have self control as well.

They cloak their intolerance in the pages of the bible so they can scream how they are being persecuted for their beliefs. If you swap gay out for women, blacks, Muslims, etc… people would call them intolerant asses, but it is still socially acceptable to cast gays as “the other”. The others are at fault for everything, we can’t let the others win, etc etc.

Anonymous Coward says:

Most of the people commenting here would have failed law school and are obviously graduates of our fine public school system. For those who attended a union run public school or Marxist school of higher education read on.

1. Amtrak is government-owned and subject to the 1st Amendment.
2. The Constitution only protects you from your government. For example, it does not protect you from your neighbor. If it did, murder would be listed as unconstitutional. For that, see the 10 Commandments or Congress’ ability to create laws. The Bill of Rights does not protect you from your employer and / or a private corporation. Your employer can try to restrict what you see, hear, do and say on the job.
3. There are no sexual orientation discrimination laws, at least on the Federal level. So the comparisons to women or racial issues sites is not apples-to-apples. I, as a man, might enjoy sexual relationships with only Asian women. While you on the other hand as a man might enjoy sex with another man. These are choices. Your choice of enjoyment of sexual contact with a person of the same sex does not afford you any extra legal protection. I can not have heterosexual sex in public on a Federally-owned train and you can’t have homosexual sex either. You are no more special, different or more or less equal than anyone else in reagrds to sex desires.
4. The Supreme Court would rule that Amtrak is within their rights to filter the wifi service for several reasons. First, this is a bit like yelling “fire” in a crowded theatre or being nude on the train as some sort of perfromance art. There are limits to free speech when the results would be more harmful than the restrictions on the government. The government, in this case Amtrak, is making a best effort to restrict offensive content in a public place, probably as well as illegal activity such as spamming. They don’t have to be 100% right, just best reasonable effort by subscribing to a web filtering service and not doing the filtering themselves. Second, the government (Amtrak) is also a work place for its employees. They are subject to the same rules regarding sexually hostile work place environment laws as your private employer. Amtrak has the right to web filter content as would the FBI, or the Parks Department, etc. in their own places of work (emphasis on in their own places of work). Third, if you showed up at a Department of Transportation office building with a bullhorn and walked its hallways shouting “free Lindsay” (as in Lohan), trust me you will be arrested. No real judge will side with you on the free speech issue. There are reasonable limits. Finally, Amtrak may be a government entity but they are also providing a paid service (beyond taxpayer money) so I as customer of said service would expect reasonable protections from such things as nude people, Lohan freaks with bullhorns and transgender porn or any porn for that matter. Because we are all paying directly to be there (again, beyond tax dollars) this is no longer a public space. If the ride was free and 100% tax dollars there would be less of an argument but only slightly to this last point.

I could go on with many more points but I hope you get the point. I need to eat my dinner and stop wasting time trying to educate you when you should have been educated with my tax money already.

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