It’s a very disturbing trend we’ve been following for some time now. UK mobile ISPs using filters to prevent children from seeing explicit content for the purpose of blacklisting websites that hardly have anything to do with pornography in the first place. Now, TorrentFreak has become the latest victim of over-blocking.
For almost two weeks, we’ve been covering the Open Rights Group finding websites ending up on mobile blacklists that may not deserve to be on there in the first place. The initiative roared into the headlines when it was discovered that mobile ISPs were blocking TOR, political websites and digital rights organizations like La Quadrature Du Net. While it was controversial, the list was apparently only the beginning. Later last week, another string of websites was reported to be blocked including news sites and advocacy organizations.
Now, another website has found its way onto a mobile blacklist. It was non other than BitTorrent news blog TorrentFreak. After TorrentFreak urged their Twitter followers to ask Orange to remove TorrentFreak from their blacklists, Orange responded, saying, “We have sent it for review and will let you know!”
This isn’t the first time we’ve documented TorrentFreak getting censored in some form or another. Late in February, an anti-piracy outfit sent a DMCA takedown to Google, taking a link off of Google to TorrentFreak in the process. After the mistake was discovered, the anti-piracy outfit apologized and had the link re-instated.
Gigaom, one of the sites censored by a mobile filter commented on this whole thing saying, “If your operator is deciding on your behalf that what we write is off limits — including now, of course, the fact that we’re telling you that these blocks are faulty — then there’s really no reason to suspect it couldn’t happen to anybody, at any time.”
That is the thing about the censorship that is happening now. The one thing that is being proven here is that anyone could be blocked. Sure, the original intention of such censorship may have been noble, but as the mobile industry is proving, sites can be censored for a whole variety of reasons well beyond what the stated intentions of these filters were at the beginning. Once you bring in censorship, anyone can be a victim. I say it’s not right that innocent websites are being blocked. No one deserves to be unfairly censored. Not ZeroPaid, not Gigaom, not TorrentFreak, not LaQuadrature Du Net, not Tor, not The Pirate Bay, not anyone. Yet, here we are, setting up for the possibilities for such abuses on gradually larger scales. If proponents of internet censorship say that there is no slippery slope and that censorship is only available to get the “bad guys”, then why are critics constantly being proven right as seen above? Why is there always a rush towards censorship when it’s only meant to keep the bad sites out? Why aren’t we painstakingly trying to find a solution to make blocking strike a fair balance if we absolutely have to have it in the first place? I’m of the opinion that censorship never works. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, censorship never worked for China, it never worked for Thailand, it never worked for Australia and I don’t think it’ll work anywhere else either.
To report a website unfairly blocked, you can check out the Open Rights Group blocked.org.uk.