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Protected: More on the ‘esoteric material’ filtering issue

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No evidence that ‘esoteric’ websites will be censored by the UK government

This has been copied over from my spirituality blog, where it didn’t quite belong. It’s still up there, but I thought it was a handy way to inaugurate this blog.

Many members of the modern Pagan community have recently been very concerned about the possibility that the government is attempting to censor ‘esoteric material’ as part of their internet filtering policy.

Here are the facts as I currently understand them (and I have done a fair bit of research on this, including searching for Freedom of Information requests and spending several hours trying to find reliable news articles on the subject).

1. There is currently absolutely no evidence that the UK government plans to censor ‘esoteric’ websites. Here are the facts on what’s happening. The UK government is indeed asking Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to offer ‘opt-out’ internet filtering. The government has not suggested any categories of websites to be filtered, except for pornography.

2. No law is being passed on this. It is a government policy that they are planning to implement through the ISPs only. It will probably be left up to ISPs as to what they censor.

3. Nothing is being automatically censored. Currently, it looks like you will be fully within your rights to click ‘NO’ when you are asked if you want to filter certain categories of websites. You will be asked this when you first set up your home internet. If you click ‘YES’, you will be asked which categories of websites you want to block. You can un-select any category you want. You can still see porn if you want, or you can filter porn and keep any other categories that are offered. There is no evidence that your name will be passed to the government if you don’t want to filter websites, which is one (ridiculous) rumour I’ve heard about this.

4. The rumours of this are based on this Open Rights Group article. This is not, as some have claimed, based on a Freedom of Information request to the government, or any statement from the government at all. Open Rights simply went to the ISPs and said, what will your filters look like? They then published example categories that were offered to them. These examples seem to be categories that are already offered to private companies who want to censor websites. (For example, McDonald’s offers free wifi in its restaurants, but there are a large number of types of websites that you can’t see there. That’s within McDonald’s rights to do, because they are providing the internet service.)

5. As yet, the government doesn’t seem to know what it’s doing with opt-out filtering. It seems to be planning to reply on the Internet Service Providers to decide what to offer people as filtering categories. Some of the other initially-rumoured categories have included ‘web forums’ and ‘blogs’. We don’t seem to be losing the plot over that yet, though.

6. Censorship is, in my opinion, a bad thing. I dislike the idea of opt-out parental controls for the internet. They are a very blunt instrument, a wide net that catches a lot of things that don’t need filtering. That, however, is a separate issue. I have signed a petition against this censorship. If you dislike internet censorship too, here are two petitions you can sign: this one is just for UK residents or ex-pats, and this one is more general and I believe can be signed by anyone.

I was quoted about this issue over at The Wild Hunt. (It’s towards the end of the article.)

A more detailed post will follow, when I get a chance to write one. I have asked Open Rights whether they’re willing to give a statement for the Divine Community podcast. They may not have time to do so, of course (and they have already edited their article to point out very clearly that these are example categories, so they really don’t have to). I will also try to contact the government about this – they’re even more likely not to respond, but I can only try.

– Naomi Catherine Jacobs