Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Internet Censorship In The U.K.

On the 27th of December 2007 the Canna Zine was accepted as an
accredited Google News source.

Frankly I was shocked and stunned as previously we had published our
press via a network of online PR sites, so it was no secret where we
were coming from with regard to our material. But, be that as it may,
our first article, syndicated via Google News in our own right, went out
on December 27th.

On December 31, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith passed a new techology
measure which was called "Cleanfeed".

Essentially, Cleanfeed is a means of censoring websites the government
don't like, and after the material we have published, about the lies
this Labour government have told regarding cannabis and the laws
surrounding it, its fair to say the government don't like the Canna
Zine. Not one little bit.

Since the start of January we have suffered a catalogue of problems with
regard to getting our material published. Services which I pay for, but
which over a period of time, I no longer received.

British Telecom

It started when my broadband connection was all of a sudden cut off.
Phone lines too.

After two days of British Telecom tech support telling me "the fault is
a mystery", I decided to do some of my own detective work.

I'm currently staying with my girlfriend whilst I wait for a new house
in Cardiff, and we're smack bang in the middle of a South Wales housing
estate. The only service provider in the area, is British Telecom.

So I checked with the neighbours either side and lo and behold their
phone service had been unaffected throughout the entire period, which
eventually ran to almost 5 full days. To this day BT have been unable to
give a reason for the break in service. They still took their payment
all the same!

Web Hosting

Then on the 14th of January I started receiving e-mails from my
web-hosting company, which is a British company who's name I won't
mention right now as I'm still in communications with them on the subject.

I operate a reseller account. What that means is I am not only able to
offer hosting to third parties, but I am also able to operate unlimited
domains, hosting unlimited domain names.

The e-mails stated, "as part of a service improvement scheme, my web
files were being moved to a new, faster server."

Regular visitors to the Canna Zine will know the service has always been
very good. The website always operated very quickly.

But on the 14th January my service levels dropped to a crawl. People sat
staring at a blank screen waiting sometimes 2 or 3 full minutes for the
page to load. A situation which has remained to date.

Google News UK
On the 20th of January I released an article and that was to be the last
article I would release through the Canna Zine as Google News UK pulled
the plug.

Why?

I would be guessing if I answered, but you only have to read through my
material, which is still on Google News, to see why the government,
Gordon Brown, and Jacqui Smith specifically, may want to take the Canna
Zine "off the air".

According to Frank Fisher on The Guardian website;
The technology behind Cleanfeed is simple enough, based on a system
devised by BT and known as Cleanfeed. A list of IP addresses is drawn up
by the industry watchdog, the Internet Watch Foundation, supplied to and
then augmented by the Home Office, and then handed to ISPs with the
simple instruction "block traffic to and from these addresses". The
problems are twofold.

First, the government, in the person of Home Office minister Vernon
Coaker, (who has appeared a number of times on the Canna Zine as an ex
toker himself - use the Canna Zine SEARCH for more) simply demanded that
all UK ISPs "voluntarily" sign up for the system - there is no
legislative backing for this at all. And second, no doubt only because
no open discussion took place, no parliamentary debate occurred, and
therefore no real examination of the dangers of such a process were
exposed, no one except the Home Office knows what's on that final list.
We're led to believe that it's purely a list of child pornography sites.
But no one outside government knows. Not even the ISPs. They block; they
don't look.

As of December 31 last year, all UK ISPs duly agreed to adopt the system.

You're now viewing a state-mandated subset of the internet. How do you
feel about that?

Like to vote against it? You can't.

Like your MP to sit on a committee to oversee implementation? He can't.

Like to know if the Google results you're seeing are a full
representation of Google's actual results? You can't.

Censorship at this level - above even ISPs, is all but invisible to the
end user. It's a secret that they're keeping these secrets from you,
(and me).

Now, this isn't China you might say, we trust our government to only
censor material that needs censoring. Sure?

This is the same government that has leaned on ISPs inside the UK, and
outside, not with the intention of blocking illegal or obscene material,
but simply sites that irritated, embarrassed, or offended the government.

Not using legal methods either - a court order, say - but bullying and
threats.

And this is the same government that was only beaten by one vote in the
House of Lords, on their 2006 proposal to force UK ISPs to drop sites on
the say-so of a single police officer.

This is, remember, that same government that's constantly telling us,
with regard to ID cards, that if you have nothing to hide, you have
nothing to fear. Why then, do they hide this list?

Now, OK, most will feel with regard to child pornography a bit of
overkill may be justified, but with "extremism" we start a whole new
ball game. It's a truism that one man's terrorist is another's freedom
fighter, what should also be understood is that what is inflammatory and
incendiary material to one, is the simple truth to others.

Can we really accept that a few pen pushers in the Home Office should
have absolute veto over our online browsing habits?

If the government is determined to pursue this path - and I'd stress I'd
really rather they didn't (the best answer to poisonous speech is
non-poisonous speech) - then the very least they must do is introduce
transparency. There is no reason why the list supplied to ISPs should
not be reviewed and questioned by a parliamentary committee at the very
least and, unlike child porn, there's no reason why that shouldn't be in
open session.

Better would be a wider consultation, perhaps along the lines of the
Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, where government could put
its case to interested parties, including representatives of ISPs, civil
liberties groups, and the public.
You bet I'd volunteer. We cannot allow a power like this to operate,
unchecked and unobserved, even if it is currently used benignly. Can
those who'd say they would trust this government to act proportionately,
really say they'd trust all future governments also? Future Spycatcher
episodes will invariably happen online and in the UK, if the government
of the day chose to act, we'd know nothing about it. We may even be in
that situation right now.

The manner in which the government has grasped this power, the way in
which they are already wielding it, and their resistance to introducing
transparency to the process, suggests they think imposing invisible and
opaque censorship, with no legal process, is a proper way for the state
to behave.

I reckon the Chinese government feels that way too. Censors generally
feel their censorship is in a good cause too. It makes no difference.

We need a proper legal footing for these measures, proper oversight, and
a proper understanding that free speech is not a trivial principle the
government can simply ignore, but a cornerstone of any state that claims
to be democratic. If they're going to slice off chunks of the internet,
then the rest of us need to be damn sure that what's going is going for
a good reason, and that Jacqui Smith isn't both judge and jury, in the
hanging, drawing, and quartering of the world wide web.
http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/frank_fisher

http://cannazine.co.uk/content/view/3501/1585/

3 comments:

Hermes said...

Cleanfeed only uses the IWF CAI (Child Abuse Images) list and not all ISPs use the Cleanfeed approach but all the big ones (with a couple of exceptions) have the functionality enabled in their network to drop any CAI URLs with a 404 error.

Nothing else is in the feed other than the CAI list.

tripz said...

i would like to say that i am 16 years of age and i do smoke cannabis but im at school about my gsce's and in my year i have one of the highest levels for exams ect. and hope to go on to alevels
and uni. also hundreds of people die each year of liver failier
from alchohol and i know that the deaths from cannabis are probly less the ten a year so why cannabis is alegal i dont know
i am down for legalising it
iff anyone wants to share viwes and let me know about the progress about this movement please ad my email adress

remeber cannabis the the SHAAAABANG! looooooool.

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