UK Porn Filter Censors the Chaos Computer Club

Overblocking in the UK is once again grabbing headlines after the porn filters (often dubbed “The Great Firewall of Britain”) have added another high profile innocent victim: The Chaos Computer Club.

ISP-level censorship has been notorious for being a disaster both in how effective they are and what sites they block. Bearing the brunt of many headlines is the UK. During my time as a reporter for ZeroPaid, I covered this extensively. In 2012, numerous sites that shouldn’t have been blocked was unearthed including digital rights advocacy organizations, anti-censorship technology Tor, a blog that describes various items that can be placed on a shelf, advice sites, small businesses and political websites that are all outside of the scope of what was mandated to be censored.

From there, the story grew as more news and political websites were discovered on these blacklists. The story just kept getting bigger as TorrentFreak, a large blog, ended up getting censored as well. After that, a very well known UK news organization, The Telegraph, got added to the blacklist as well. In the midst of reporting all of these cases of overblocking, I ended up becoming a part of the headlines as ZeroPaid itself was added to the blacklist after highlighting all of these cases of overblocking in the UK.

While all of that highlights just how government mandated ISP level censorship doesn’t work when it comes to blocking the correct sites, there is also the known problem that such filters are ineffective. The most memorable case for us was in 2007 when an Australian teenager spent 30 minutes cracking the Australian governments $84 million (AU) porn filter. There’s also the fact that there are numerous ways to bi-pass DNS censorship such as simply utilizing a proxy, using Tor, modifying a local hosts file, and using a VPN to name a few methods.

Now with the latest incident of overblocking, a lot of what has happened in the past is echoing into the present. Slashdot is pointing to a press release from the Chaos Computing Club which reads:

A significant portion of British citizens are currently blocked from accessing the Chaos Computer Club’s (CCC) website. On top of that, Vodafone customers are blocked from accessing the ticket sale to this year’s Chaos Communication Congress (31C3). [1]

Since July 2013, a government-backed so-called opt out list censors the open internet. These internet filters, authorized by Prime Minister David Cameron, are implemented by UK’s major internet service providers (ISPs). Dubbed as the “Great Firewall of Britain”, the lists block adult content as well as material related to alcohol, drugs, smoking, and even opinions deemed “extremist”. [2]

Users can opt-out of censorship, or bypass it by technical means, but only a minority of users know how to bypass those filters. Accessing the server directly via http://213.73.89.123/ currently appears to work quite well, thereby rendering the censorship efforts useless.

Internet filters simply do not work, but leaving technical limitation aside, the CCC’s example shows that unsolicited overblocking, meaning wrongly classified websites, is a common phenomenon in large censorship infrastructures. However, it may very well be that the CCC is considered “extremist” judged by British standards of freedom of speech.

“When these filters were introduced, their abuse was imminent. Today, we are shocked to learn that they not only block access to our site, but also to our conference,” says CCC-spokesperson Dirk Engling. “We see this as proof that censorship infrastructure – no matter for which reasons it was set up, and no matter which country you are in – will always be abused for political reasons.”

The major challenge for governments that are pushing for censorship has always been trying to justify it and show that it would never be abused. With so many examples out there that show that filters are both ineffective and abused, it’s not hard to see the distrust citizens have with these initiatives.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.



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