Warning: This Blog is X-rated!

Most of you will have noticed that many important websites (including wikipedia) were offline yesterday in protest against SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect Intellectual Property Act), two devices specifically designed to prevent the sharing of material via the internet. I’m among the many that think these acts are at best misguided and at worst downright sinister; see, e.g. here. They are probably also just the start of long battle to defend freedom of speech on the internet more generally. Those pushing ahead this repressive agenda are those with most to gain by controlling public access to information and most likely to want to write new laws to in order to avoid being held to account for violation of old ones. In other words, politicians.

Anyway, I recently discovered that I’ve become a victim of internet censorship myself. Apparently if you try to read this blog through some mobile internet connections a thing called Orange Safeguard pops up and tells you that this blog is only suitable to those aged 18 and over. If you can’t prove your age, access to the site is blocked.

Amused and, I have to say, slightly perturbed by this development, I went to the Orange site and found a list of reasons why a site might be X-rated. Here it is:

Anonymizers: These sites allow you to browse the Internet and access content anonymously.

Anorexia – Bulimia: Promoting and instigating eating disorders.

Gambling: Access to online gambling such as casinos and any other online services that let you place bets.

Chat: Where you chat in real time to people you don’t know.

Bombs: Explaining how to prepare, make, build and use explosives and explosive devices.

Dating: Websites for match-making where the user can meet other people – make friends, find a partner, etc.

Forums: Where you’re invited to take part in discussions on predetermined topics with people you don’t know.

Pornography: Websites with a pornographic or sexual content.

Racism: Sites promoting racist behaviour based on culture, race, religion, ideology, etc.

Sects: Websites on universally acknowledged sects. Within this category URLs are included on organizations that promote directly or indirectly: (i) group, animal or individual injuries, (ii) esoteric practices, (iii) content that sets a bad example for young children: that teaches or encourages children to perform harmful acts or imitate dangerous behaviour, (iv) content that creates feelings of fear, intimidation, horror, or psychological terror, (v) Incitement or depiction of harm against any individual or group based on gender, sexual orientation, ethnic, religious or national identity.

Violence: Containing openly violent content and/or that promote violence or defend it.

I’m not sure which of these I’ve fallen foul of. Is cosmology a sect? Or do the physics problems I’ve posted induce psychological terror? Who decided that this blog is for adults-only, and why? I’ve never been informed, although I have written to Orange in order to request this information…

..and that leads to the important question behind this amusing state of affairs. Who decides? Once we allow censorship to become commonplace, someone has to decide who can see what. That gives them, whoever they may be, far too much power.

If someone finds something I put on here offensive, they should have to tell me and explain why, not just arbitrarily terminate access. It’s the start of a journey that will take us into a very dark place indeed.

And another question. By blocking my blog, Orange Mobile is implying that it contains material belonging to the categories listed above. I don’t think it does. So can I sue Orange Mobile for libel?

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27 Responses to “Warning: This Blog is X-rated!”

  1. the reply box on your blog must mean you fall under:

    Forums: Where you’re invited to take part in discussions on predetermined topics with people you don’t know.

    • telescoper Says:

      In that case they would block all WordPress blogs…including Andy Lawrence’s.

      • which was indeed blocked by Orange Safeguard when they activated it for my phone without me asking for it. I got very annoyed about that.
        Of course by calling them and asking them to switch it off I have now ticked the box labelled ‘pervert customer’

      • telescoper Says:

        Well, if the cap fits…

        Perhaps Andy’s blog is banned because it refers to andyXl?

  2. sprinkle your blog liberally with references to [ prof ] brian cox. That will give it all the “okay-ness” you’ll need.

  3. Emma J King Says:

    Don’t feel special. I’ve spent the last couple of weeks with a new Orange phone & have finally managed to get the bloody “safeguard” turned off. As far as I can see it blocks access to at least half of the non-porn Internet, with very little rhyme or reason, making an iPhone virtually pointless.

    Madness. Very irritating madness….

  4. […] “… Anyway, I recently discovered that I’ve become a victim of internet censorship myself. Apparently if you try to read this blog through some mobile internet connections a thing called Orange Safeguard pops up …” (more) […]

  5. Contemplating the vastness of the Universe and one’s insignificance within it certainly induces psychological terror. This is a well-known effect, upon which the Total Perspective Vortex was based.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technology_in_The_Hitchhiker's_Guide_to_the_Galaxy#Total_Perspective_Vortex

  6. Forum? Maybe because just it includes the availability of commenting?

  7. Anton Garrett Says:

    Peter, I agree with your comments about the law and freedom. I think that musicians and filmmakers do deserve not to have their products distributed for free, but there would be a lot less piracy if it were reasonably priced and it should not be too hard to produce better legislation than these totalitarian bills.

    However, just as I support your freedom to write what you like, *private* companies who provide online services should have the freedom to block whatever they choose.

    • telescoper Says:

      That’s a fair perspective. I guess people who are really fed up with Orange Mobile can just switch to another provider.

    • “I think that musicians and filmmakers do deserve not to have their products distributed for free, but there would be a lot less piracy if it were reasonably priced and it should not be too hard to produce better legislation than these totalitarian bills.”

      While I agree with all you say in the quote above, the problem is that some people think that their personal opinion that something is overpriced gives them the right to steal something. If I think a bank charges too much interest, does that give the the right to rob it? If I think a shop has too high prices, should be allowed to shoplift?

      The whole point of laws is that they are necessary because people have different opinions. For things where there is no difference of opinion, there is no need for a law. Civilization can function only if people agree to abide by laws which they disagree with.

    • Anton Garrett Says:

      “The whole point of laws is that they are necessary because people have different opinions.”

      Not quite, just about everybody condemns murder and incest but we still need laws against them because people still do them. And there is a further debate over penalties.

      “Civilization can function only if people agree to abide by laws which they disagree with.”

      And if everybody agreed that there should be no laws…?

      • “Not quite, just about everybody condemns murder and incest but we still need laws against them because people still do them. And there is a further debate over penalties.”

        Penalties is a separate issue. I’ve heard more than one Catholic priest say “I didn’t know it was wrong” with regard to sexual abuse of minors. Yes, most people might have the same opinions about murder, incest etc but obviously not all do.

        “And if everybody agreed that there should be no laws…?”

        Then, I submit, civilization would not work. That is, if one just agreed, from one day to the next, to abolish all laws. Not quite the same, but read up on the Montreal police strike. Of course, an ideal society would have no need for laws, but that does not mean that abolishing laws would bring us closer to the ideal society.

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        I believe that Catholic priest was lying.

      • Even if he was, it doesn’t affect my point, namely that laws are necessary even if the majority agree; it’s enough if one person doesn’t.

        Things are becoming more absurd by the moment. A huge illegal upload/download operation was busted yesterday and the self-appointed defenders of freedom are claiming that it is a free-speech issue and Anonymous took down some web sites they don’t like.

        This is the Wild West. Why not just issue everyone a Colt 45 and get things over with more quickly? Had someone written this as a science-fiction satire 10 or 20 years ago, it would have been branded too unrealistic. The self-appointed pirates are endangering real freedoms. It is time the EFF and the rest of the “internet community” stop painting things in black and white (either you support Anonymous and claim that any activity in the context of the internet is protected by the human right of free speech, or you support Guantanamo and censorship—this is the “either you’re with us, or you’re with the terrorists” rhetoric of George W. Bush) and criticize things worthy of criticism but stop throwing the baby out with the bathwater and letting themselves be abused (I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt) by shady characters who want to use legitimate ideals to cover their own illegal activities (which, by any sensible definition, should remain illegal).

        It’s probably only a matter of hours now before Anonymous tries to eradicate me from the internet. I wouldn’t be surprised, though, if they just hire a hit man.

    • “*private* companies who provide online services should have the freedom to block whatever they choose.”

      Yes and no. Orange safeguard was introduced AFTER I bought their service. They implemented it without my asking for it (it was not the service I bought).

    • telescoper Says:

      The distinction between public and private organizations is also not so straightforward. Big corporations give hefty donations to political parties and often in return we get laws enacted to favour their interests over those of the public.

  8. Could this somehow be Mark Brake-related ? I recall one of your posts being censored by wordpress some time ago.

  9. Whatever one thinks in detail of these proposed US laws, I think it is a slippery slope to combat something on the grounds that it might be abused. If there is such a danger, then the criticism should address that, not advocate throwing out the whole thing.

    I’m particularly annoyed at folks who say that being fined for downloading the latest from Lady Gaga somehow violates their right to free speech. Yes, both have to do with the propagation of information, but by that criterion spam emails are free speech, as are death threats for that matter. The sad thing about that is that it weakens the concept of free speech, which is bad for people who really do suffer from the lack of it.

    There is also a tendency to join in with the criticism out of fear of being mistaken for the enemy, sort of like the folks who don’t criticize FGM because they fear someone will think they are racist.

    I can dig it up if necessary, but Google can find it pretty quickly. There was recently an editorial by one of the folks who invented the internet criticizing the concept of internet access as a basic human right. Yes, it might be desirable, but not everything which is desirable is a basic human right.

    The strategy is clear: since there is a broad consensus on the importance of human rights, or the evils of discrimination, then some people tend to cast their pet project in those terms, in the hope that it will make their legal battle easier.

    It is a slippery slope. Today, I read that some hedge funds are considering trying to claim the right to profit in the European Court of Human Rights. Yes, I am known for sometimes stretching examples in order to make a point, but I am not making this up. Type “hedge fonds court human rights dividend” (without the quotation marks) into Google. Read it and weep. I submit that this seriously trivializes the concept of basic human rights.

    Don’t get me wrong: I think that free speech is important and that it is generally better to err on the side of too much than too little. I also think that it is necessary to allow people to express their opinions anonymously. However, when people who call themselves pirates and are known (often by their own admission) to be interested in copyright violation for their own personal gain use the concepts of free speech and human rights as a means to legalizing their illegal activities, I have no sympathy at all.

    What these people don’t seem to realize is that it is only relatively recently that it has become possible for normal people to be creative at all. The concept of copyright—which exists because copying is easy; when copying was hard it wasn’t necessary—allows nothing less than the democratization of all forms of creative expression. That is something the pirates are endangering.

    Yes, support free speech, support human rights, but don’t fall into the trap of thinking that in order to do so, you have to support the right to enjoy creative works without paying for them.

    • Anton Garrett Says:

      To be a bit provocative: There is no such thing as human rights. There are only civil rights. Here is why. Everybody who accepts the concept of human rights agrees that liberty is one such. We all agree that somebody who commits a serious enough crime should lose their liberty, at least for a while. But they don’t stop being human, do they?

      I agree with most human-righters on what one person should and should not be allowed to do to another, but I disagree that this is ‘because’ of the human rights of the latter. Every argument I have ever seen which seeks to fill out that ‘because’ is circular. I also find it ironic that the usual argument for rights is because they are granted by somebody, eg the State grants civil rights; but the only possible granter of universal human rights could be God and the concept of human rights arose in a secularising movement, the Enlightenment. (Incidentally the Bible does not state any rights granted to the entire human race except that the seasons will continue, after the Flood.)

      • Aaron F. Says:

        We all agree that somebody who commits a serious enough crime should lose their liberty, at least for a while.

        Wait, we do? I’ve heard it argued that Jewish law as laid out in the Torah doesn’t have a concept of punitive incarceration, although the situation, as always, is complicated (see the paragraph that begins, “A verse in the Torah itself…”).

  10. Albert Zijlstra Says:

    As the title of this post confirms that this is X-rated, you can now expect to become blocked by more discerning sites..

  11. Ross Collins Says:

    I discovered that Orange Safeguard blocks everything to do with pregnancy and breast feeding, even to the point of blocking pram reviews on the Which? magazine website. Somehow I can’t see how this is helpful to 16-year-olds…

  12. With regard to the comments from Albert and Ross: There is the story of someone who had organized a conference and was surprised when the sysadmin said that there had been a huge increase in web traffic after the conference. “Did you change anything?” “I just put up one additional page.” The title of said page: “Submission in LaTeX”. A non-case-sensitive web search will turn up a variety of things.

  13. […] on from the X-rating awarded to this blog by Orange Mobile, my learned colleague Dr Dread informs me that it is also banned from Cross Country […]

  14. […] of a vampire, i.e. The Count von Count from Sesame Street. I should reassure you all that, although this blog is X-rated, being censored, this particular post is entirely suitable for viewing at work… Follow […]

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