What They Don't Want You to See Online (2013), by John Kersey

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What They Don't Want You to See Online
by John Kersey
Published on the LA Blog, 9th August 2013

It turns out that David Cameron's "pornwall" is about rather more than having British ISPs block child pornography. According to the Open Rights Group, who have started a petition against this, the following categories are likely to be subject to user opt-in - otherwise they will be blocked by a filter:

EDIT NOTE: the category examples are based on current mobile configurations and broad indications from ISPs

(1) Screen one

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

[next]

(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

[continue]

The precise pre-ticked options may vary from service to service.

It would appear that our leaders want to take their "nudge" theory rather further in terms of telling people what they should or should not do online. Particularly of concern is the blocking of "esoteric material" - which could apply to a very wide spectrum of entirely legal content from Rudolf Steiner to David Icke, not to mention pagans of various kinds and even the odd Rosicrucian. And woe betide you if you want to buy a few cigars or a bottle of brandy.

What I had not realised was that something like this is already being implemented. If you are unfortunate enough to buy an Orange mobile phone on pay-as-you-go, you get the wonder of its Safeguard system. This, the Open Rights Group explains, believes that you should be prevented from viewing dating sites, from chatting with other people in real time or visiting web forums, from viewing the websites of "universally acknowledged" sects (as a Catholic, I wonder if that includes the Church of England?) and from anything deemed "racist". This is, I emphasize, not a filter applied to children, but to adults.

There are general filters applied to all pay-as-you-go mobile phones that are in addition to this. These are designed to prevent such phones from accessing blocked "adult" content; the exact nature of what is blocked is not fully disclosed - but in my case, as an O2 user, it has included this very blog. To remove the filter, the owner must identify him or herself by making a credit card payment to the operator (it also says that a passport can be presented at certain shops) at which point the owner will be identified as being over 18 and the block removed. The owner will at that point, of course, have given up any degree of anonymity and provided a convenient means by which he or she can be tracked online. He or she will also, by the way, have paid £1 for the privilege, which is not refunded to the credit card but instead applied - on the first occasion only - as a voucher towards future use of the service.

Nor is this the end of what is already forbidden to us. If you access public wi-fi on the London Underground, you are blocked from accessing "adult material". If you use Tesco's in-store wi-fi, you also find content blocked that reportedly includes the website of the Open Rights Group. And if you are in the Houses of Parliament, you can no longer access the website Out of Town Affairs, which offers married men and women the opportunity to engage in adulterous liaisons. This must be a particular distress to our elected representatives and their colleagues, since the website generated 52,000 hits in seven months from Parliamentary computers before it was banned.