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I am British, and like many I sometimes despair of my country and its government. Especially the narrow-minded prudish “what will we tell the children?!!” attitude towards porn or violence. This is despite the fact that children only have to open a glossy magazine or watch TV to see near-naked bodies and violent action scenes up close and personal. Besides, it’s a rite of passage to find adult magazines in the neighbor’s dustbin and sneak them off to school to show your mates.

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But the government has decided it wants to nanny and censor the poor sensitive wilting souls of British youth, by installing filters at the Internet Service Provider (ISP) level. His Holiness, Pope David Cameron I, is behind this wonderfully thought-out plan – which is actually turning into a huge blunder. British media reports that 19,000 of the top 100,000 most popular websites, as decided by Alexa, are being blocked by at least one British ISP Is Your ISP Making Your Home Network Insecure? Is Your ISP Making Your Home Network Insecure? Is your router letting intruders onto your home network? Don't be caught out by home router security issues, brought onto you by your own ISP! We show you how to test your router. Read More . To get them unblocked, the owner of the site needs to contact their ISP and plead their case.

More on that later in the article.

The Filters

The filters are switched on by default, and you have to call your ISP to opt out. According to Wikipedia, the list of banned topics include dating, drugs, alcohol and tobacco, file sharing Build Your Own Wireless Dead Drop For File Sharing Build Your Own Wireless Dead Drop For File Sharing A PirateBox is a wireless dead drop, letting anyone within range upload and download files. Here's how to build one with a Raspberry Pi (and Lego). Read More , gambling Facebook Bets Big On Online Gambling [Updates] Facebook Bets Big On Online Gambling [Updates] Facebook has introduced a gambling app that’s presently only for users in the United Kingdom. The unusual bit about it is that users aged 18 and over can use real money to play on the... Read More , games, pornography, nudity, social networking 5 Hottest Social Networking Sites Without Your Grandma 5 Hottest Social Networking Sites Without Your Grandma Is the social network market saturated? Isn't everyone already on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, and LinkedIn? Not quite. Read More , suicide and self-harm, weapons and violence, obscenity, criminal skills, hate, media streaming Chromecast Vs Apple TV Vs Roku: Which Media Streamer Suits You? Chromecast Vs Apple TV Vs Roku: Which Media Streamer Suits You? Media streaming devices are simply awesome. Those little boxes that connect to your TV can add a wealth of entertainment options to your living room. But which device is best for you? Read More , gore (not the former US Vice-President), cyberbullying Cyber Bullying Unmasked - The Tragic Case Of Cassidy Cyber Bullying Unmasked - The Tragic Case Of Cassidy Kids can be cruel. Almost as cruel as so-called grown-ups. That cruelty has found its way on to the web and into the lives of countless young people who thought they might be able to... Read More , hacking 5 Must-See Documentaries About Hacking and Hackers 5 Must-See Documentaries About Hacking and Hackers What is hacking? Why is hacking simultaneously glamorous and nebulous? How much of the hacking community do we actually understand? Do hackers deserve their reputation? These documentaries will answer all of these questions and more. Read More and web-blocking circumvention tools (after all that, what’s left to see online?!).

The European Parliament threw a spanner in the works by backing net neutrality and declaring the UK filters as illegal. But Pope David has decided to veto that ruling and press on ahead regardless.

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A newspaper article from 2014 reported that only 13% of UK Internet users actually want the “porn filters” with the rest opting out. But you have to understand the whole filtering scheme in the first place (some people are totally clueless about computers – like my mother), and people also need to understand that they are entitled to opt out in the first place. They may think erroneously that they have no choice in the matter.

big-brother-1984

Don’t get me wrong, very young kids (under the age of 10 perhaps) shouldn’t see any of these restricted subjects. But as the child starts to become a teenager, it should be the responsibility of the parents to show these subjects in moderation and in proper context. The government shouldn’t take it upon themselves to decide for us what is taboo and what isn’t. They are not nannies, and they are not supposed to act like Big Brother.

The Problem

If you are running a business website, and you rely on that site for your livelihood, then being unfairly blocked by ISP filters would be disastrous. Your potential customers will not find you, and you may not even be aware that the site is being blocked, until someone perhaps mentions it to you. Until then, how much money have you lost? How much time will you sit at the computer, wondering why there is no action at your e-commerce store?

breastcancer

Or consider the possible plight of charities, who heavily rely on their websites for their fundraising efforts. What if one of them was fundraising for breast cancer research? Will the word “breast” get the site onto a blacklist and have the site tagged as porn? Or depression charity websites talking about suicide? You see how flawed the system is already?

Imagine recipe websites telling you how to make Spotted Dick? Oh my.

One high-profile blog that was caught up in the Thought Police dragnet, is a UK political blog called Guido Fawkes. The blog was described in 2007 by a British newspaper as “one of Britain’s leading political blogsites”. The owner of the site, Paul Staines, was quoted as saying – and I love this –

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

Other victims include a watchmaker, a female and LGBT rights group, and even Jezebel, a Gawker Media site. The list just goes on and on. Obviously a lot of sites deserve to be on the blacklist – but many more don’t.

The Solution

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An organization called The Open Rights Group, have created two sites – one is a parody of a government department, showing how ridiculous the filtering system is. It’s called The Department of Dirty (if only there was such a department. I would pay anything for the news interviewer to say “and now we are going to talk to the Dirty Minister”).

deptdirty

The other site is a webtool called Blocked, and it is designed to tell you if a particular domain has been blocked. So if you are the owner of one or more domains, it pays to run them through Blocked to make sure that the domains are not blocked to your UK visitors – wherever in the world your website, blog, or online store is based.

. If they are, the Open Rights Group will tell you how to contact each UK Internet Service Provider to make your case for having your domain removed from the blacklist.

blocked

At the bottom of the screen, enter the domain you want checked. So I entered MakeUseOf’s. Let’s see what devious evil filth this site is spewing out.

Celebrate! MakeUseOf is officially clean of any evil stuff. We are FAMILY FRIENDLY!

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But if there were any red flags, then the head honchos of MakeUseOf could go to this page, to get contact details for each of the ISP’s. Then it would just be a case of emailing the relevant companies, and asking for a reconsideration of the site. The page also gives contact details for the mobile phone companies as well, who may have you blocked on their network.

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The Proverbial Slippery Slope

We Brits, naturally try to find the funny side in every situation and have a good chuckle about it. Hence the Department of Dirty. It’s almost as if laughing about something crappy suddenly makes it more palatable to live with. I call it the “Monty Python Syndrome”.

But even though the filter can be switched off at your request, many people probably don’t even realize that the filter is on in the first place. David Cameron claims that this will keep young vulnerable people safe from harmful influences online. But the government is now telling you what sites are good and which are bad. Isn’t that the job of the parents to decide that?

Tell us in the comments what you think about this issue. Plus check your domain on the site to see if it is blocked or not. If it was, did you manage to get it unblocked? Were you asked about your famous Spotted Dick?

Image credit: Marcos Mesa, Sam Wordley / Shutterstock.com

  1. Philip Bates
    November 30, 2015 at 5:19 pm

    Mark, this is such an important piece. Thank you. I've long rallied against this terrible unnecessary surveillance - and the mindset of "I don't do anything wrong, so why should I care?" It's that sort of thinking that's let the Government push through the Snooper's Charter. Well, that and the argument that it's to fight terrorism and as Helen Lovejoy says, "won't somebody please think of the children?!" There's a fine line, but the Tories are stretching that boundary to its limit.

  2. Colonel Angus
    November 11, 2015 at 12:11 pm

    Hey, we get the government we deserve. If people weren't so lazy and paid more attention to the freedoms being lost and less to the Kardashians things might change. Right now, the majority of US voters have been brainwashed into believing the government is supposed to take care of and provide for them, so I'm not holding out hope that they will suddenly educate themselves on how government is supposed to work.

    • TomSJr
      November 11, 2015 at 11:17 pm

      You are absolutely correct! What YOUR government is doing and is like NOW, is what you asked for by NOT doing anything to prevent them from infringing on your rights.

      The Internet began between 2 universities and that was all it was supposed to initially be. However, it caught on fast. I think the reason the govt is involved is that THEY WILL TRY TO TAX it as well - REVENUE.

      What the govt does not seem to understand is that everytime they infringe upon our rights, they just create a whole new UNDERGROUND or black market and that is where we will go. I personally, will not purchase ANYTHING on the internet that requires collecting a tax from me. And, I TELL THE WEB SITE this and go elsewhere. Amazon is now requiring taxes on movies rented from the Video website, so NOW, we just don't go there even though we do have Prime access.

      THE MARKET WILL ALWAYS DICTATE WHAT WILL AND WHAT WILL NOT BE SUCCESSFUL IN BUSINESS AND TECHNOLOGY, so tell those whom you disagree with, WHY you disagree with them and tell them you are going elsewhere. When the business or entity loses your business, and then that spreads, they will change their policies or go out of business.

      THE FREE MARKET IS A GREAT THING, if you know how to use it.
      CAPITALISM IS A GREAT THING, if you know the Consumer.
      CRONY CAPITALISM IS NOT A GOOD THING and you can stop them without hurting good Capitalism. KNOW THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN CRONY AND GOOD CAPITALISM.

  3. Howard A Pearce @HAPLibertarian
    November 10, 2015 at 3:54 pm

    State-mandated filters at any level against the will of the entity involved is a clear violation of Freedom of Press. It is like state-mandated installation of filters at your local library !

    Freedom of Communication protects ALL communication from state interference (supposedly) including internet communication in addition to speech and press and others !

    But Net Neutrality may some day be used to justify this fascism too .

    • TomSJr
      November 11, 2015 at 11:50 pm

      THIS is why everyone needs to purchase a VPN (masked IP) app and this is what it will come down to. I am a born-again Christian, BUT I believe in FREE WILL and PERSONAL CHOICE and I will defend anyone, even if they like porn and even if they use hate speech. IT IS THEIR RIGHT TO SPEAK FREELY. I will defend your right to free speech because that is our 1st Amendment in our United States Constitution. However, Judges and men will try to LIMIT what you can say and how you can say it by calling it HATE SPEECH, which is absurd in and of itself. But, I see more and more freedoms being taken away from the citizens of the world and then THEY BECOME SLAVES to their government. If no one challenges that, then it will happen.

      If your country limits what you can say at any time, then you are not truly FREE.
      Our 2nd Amendment right to BEAR ARMS (USA), guarantees our 1st Amendment right and every other Amendment in our Constitution. However, our Supreme Court now has a free speech case in court right now that could alter that. Here is a link to what free speech/religion in America is and how it has changed in recent years:
      http://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/Right+to+free+speech

      GOD GIVES MANKIND UNALIENABLE RIGHTS. MAN CANNOT GIVE THOSE.
      MANKIND TRIES TO REMOVE, CHANGE,OR RESTRICT THOSE GOD-GIVEN RIGHTS.
      That was what our U.S. Constitution was based on.
      http://www.tep-online.info/laku/usa/rights.htm

      America IS the greatest country in the world. However, Obama and his leftist friends, Socialists, Marxists, and Communists are trying their best to make America another 3rd-world country. TO NOT STAND FOR SOMETHING, IS TO STAND FOR ANYTHING. TO NOT SPEAK OUT AGAINST TYRANNY, IS TO SUPPORT TYRANNY.

      Remember that the next time YOU DECIDE NOT TO VOTE; NOT TO SPEAK OUT AGAINST AN INJUSTICE; TO NOT SPEAK OUT AGAINST FASCISM.

  4. fcd76218
    November 10, 2015 at 1:44 pm

    Despite all their blather about being the "greatest democracies of the free world" the behavior of the governments of the UK and US differs little different from that of oppressive dictatorships such as Iran, Myanmar, China or Yemen. The one difference is that under a dictatorship the people know what they are not allowed to do and why, only even if the reason given is "because we don't want you to." There is no obfuscation, prevarication or hiding behind "it's bad for the children."

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