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Open Rights Group says UK "pornwall" will block web forums

by Mark Tyson on 29 July 2013, 10:45

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This weekend there has been lots of coverage of the proposed UK "pornwall" internet filtering system as proposed by Prime Minister David Cameron. Some complain that it simply isn't fit for purpose, that the internet filters and blocks won't work to provide the desired outcome. Also it has been brought to our attention that the mandatory filter system will be controlled by Chinese communications company Huawei. Another story I read provides a list of what The Open Rights Group (ORG) says will make up the default filter list most people will agree to. The pre-ticked options include the obvious pornography and violent material but there are other choices such as "web forums" which may be automatically blocked.

In an Open Rights Group blog post called Sleepwalking into censorship Jim Killock writes that he has a good idea of what the pre-ticked options, which people will see on their ISP contract agreements, will be. He asserts that it won't just be about hardcore porn. He compiled a list of what will probably be the default pre-ticked blocking options "based on current mobile configurations and broad indications from ISPs". The list is directly below:

(1) Screen one

"Parental controls"
Do you want to install / enable parental controls
☑ yes
☐ no


(2) Screen two [if you have left the box ticked]

“Parental controls”

Do you want to block

☑ pornography
☑ violent material
☑ extremist and terrorist related content
☑ anorexia and eating disorder websites
☑ suicide related websites
☑ alcohol
☑ smoking
☑ web forums
☑ esoteric material
☑ web blocking circumvention tools

You can opt back in at any time


Killock says the government will sleepwalk us into censorship because many people stick with defaults, a popular 'choice architecture' idea with PM David Cameron, he says. The ORG blog post  says the filtering isn't harmless or good as it could have a heavy impact on the internet economy as legitimate websites are sometimes wrongly filtered. Killock says it would be better if things worked as the ISP's currently prefer - the 'active choice' where people opt-in to certain filters.

What no HEXUS forums?

'Web forum' blocking seems a bit odd but I have had experience of such a filter when I holidayed abroad, not so long ago. I checked the hotel had free Wi-Fi before I decided upon it. We stayed for about a week there and all was fine with the free Wi-Fi for all but the last two days. It was a Friday and sometime during the day at the hotel I used my computer and found a large percentage of my favourite links were blocked by 'Sonicwall'. (Just like the screenshot below.)

The sites which were blocked included YouTube, I think the reason given was "bandwidth" at our hotel. Also I remember the BBC News site was blocked (but not CNN), Facebook was blocked, marked as "Social networking" or "Photo sharing" and HEXUS forums were blocked as "Web forums". I complained at reception but they knew nothing and told me the network 'guru' was away for the weekend.

HEXUS Forums :: 17 Comments

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Wtf is “esoteric material” when it is at home? another way of saying “Anything that we think of later that we've not banned already” ?

Makes me glad that if/when this does get forced through, the first thing I will do, is switch it all off..

Pretty much as I suspected, but don't worry it's a secret list so you wont even know what you're not seeing, and what you don't know can't hurt you or make you vote for someone else.

Although by making it so broad they are effectively making it easier for everyone to opt-out. My mobile internet was blocking social networks as well as everything actually ‘adult’ by default, one tick box and the whole things was removed.
Makes me glad that if/when this does get forced through, the first thing I will do, is switch it all off..
And I suspect that most parents will do the same - especially given, (if the reports are to be believed), the wide-ranging nature of what will be regarded as “pornography”. According to the OED pornography is
printed or visual material containing the explicit description or display of sexual organs or activity, intended to stimulate sexual excitement.
But the Cameron Pornwall seems to be targetting ALL “adult” content - even perfectly legitimate things such as adult online suppliers (more adult than Ann Summers). And I have NO confidence that this “protective” firewall won't then be extended to cover other “disagreeable” content.
That's actually a pretty good petition, and tallies exactly with my thoughts - namely the pornwall isn't necessary, isn't effective in preventing bad parenting and can be circumvented with ease.

Don't get me wrong, when it comes to child porn (and by implication - explotation) my views are to the far right of the typical Daily Mail reader … I'd be quite happy to publically castrate the b*****ds!

On the other hand I can't help thinking that this is a very cynical attempt to put in filtering for other reasons, and also to be seen to pander to the “oh, won't someone think of the children!” mentality.

Let's be brutally honest, if they were serious about protecting the children then we'd be seeing more resources for CEOP (not less), stiffer sentencing for sexploiters of children and a real drive against child poverty (how about diverting some of the resource saved/generated by the “bedroom tax”?)