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?