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February 28, 2013 | Jim Killock

Court blocking orders lack transparency

Judge Arnold today handed down judgements allowing the BPI to instruct ISPs to block Fenopy, H33T and KickassTorrents. ISPs did not contest the orders.

Blocking is an extreme response, which will encourage new forms of distributed infringement. The BPI and others should be mindful that their tactics may have the opposite effect to their intention, by legitimising and promoting resistance to their actions.

 
We are concerned that these orders are not protecting speech, are overblocking forums and discussion, and are prone to error as the actual block lists are private.
 
Furthermore, users and the public interest have not been represented in the processes. ORG is actively examining ways to rectify this and will shortly be hiring a legal director. You can help by joining ORG.
 
ORG is documenting the UK's blocking orders

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February 18, 2013 | Jabed Tarapdar

BPI set to block three more BitTorrent sites

The British Phonographic Industry (BPI) will ask the UK's six biggest Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to block three more sites accused of piracy at a court hearing tomorrow. (UPDATED)

BPI, which acts on behalf of rights holders, calls for ISPs to block access to Fenopy, H33t and Kickass Torrents.

BPI argue these sites infringe music label's copyright. The six ISPs (BT, Sky, Virgin Media, O2, EE and TalkTalk) have agreed to block these sites, but only if the court order is put in place.

The power stated in Section 97A of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 was first used recently to block the pirate sites – Newzbin2 and Pirate Bay – paving the way for more sites to be blocked. This has led to several major problems for blocking sites in the UK:

  • Website blocking is an extreme response. There are growing fears this precedent will make it too easy and quick to block sites. Time needs to be taken to consider the legitimate use of the sites.

  • There needs to be a more specific and adequate definition of the precise URL or IP address to be blocked to prevent mistakes.

  • Once a site is blocked, its alleged clone sites can also be blocked, but in this case, BPI will be able to practice this without a court order. The decisions would be made between BPI and ISPs and will not be published. 

  • The blocking of these sites does not come with an expiry date. This indefinite blocking is potentially problematic if the number of sites blocked keep growing, leaving a large number of sites hidden from the public. 

  • These court hearings between a judge, ISPs and right holders do not sufficiently represent the needs of the user as their voice is not included during the hearing.

Open Rights Group (ORG) will not intervene in this case. However, due to the lack of user rights represented in this case, ORG are more likely to do so in the future.

To ensure user rights are adequately represented in future cases ORG are asking for contributions and are also advertising for a Legal Officer.

The hearing is scheduled for 19 February 2013 in the Chancery Division, High Court (Rolls Building).

Court number:

Fenopy - HC12F04957

H33t - HC12F04958

Kickass Torrents - HC12F04959

(Update: The daily courts list for Tuesday doesn't appear to show these cases.)

(Update: The Judge is expected to set a date for the hearing week beginning February 25, 2013) 

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February 14, 2013 | Peter Bradwell

Will MEPs sell out your privacy rights?

There's a huge battle for our privacy and data protection rights in the European Parliament. We need your help.

Policy makers in the EU are currently considering a ground breaking new privacy law.

It would grant us more control over how our personal information is collected, stored and exploited, and make sure that those who hold our data play by the rules. This proposed Data Protection Regulation, made in the context of a booming trade in personal information, is a major and rare opportunity to give people back more control over their data.

But the proposed Regulation is under severe pressure. And we need your help to convince MEPs to support privacy.

Pretty much the entire UK establishment, most notably the Ministry of Justice and the UK's Information Commissioner, has decided to come out against the Regulation. Your Ministry of Justice and Information Commissioner are trying to undermine the proposals by pressing for lighter touch regulation.

They are backing an argument pushed by the advertising industry, US tech companies and the US government: giving you control over your data and making sure companies don't abuse is a costly nuisance to business. This lobbying could end up seriously weakening our privacy and data protection rights.

SomeUK MEPs are no better. As revealed by LobbyPlag.eu, UK MEPs such as Giles Chichester, Sajjad Karim and Malcolm Harbour have put forward amendments that were written by lobbyists for a number of US organisations, including Amazon and the American Chamber of Commerce. That's already generated interest from both the Telegraph and the Independent.

We've produced an analysis of these amendments.

A stronger regulation is much needed. 70% of Europeans are concerned about companies using information for a purpose different to the one it was collected for. The UK was highest at 80%. 74% said their specific consent should be required for personal information to be collected. Another study found that only 14 percent of respondents believe that Internet companies are honest about their use of consumers’ personal data. The current weak regime is not only leading to privacy intrusions - it is damaging trust in online markets.  

The rights put forward in the new Data Protection Regulation are a great start. They would mean you could more easily request data about you; know how it is being used; be told when it is misused; have it deleted. It would be regulation with teeth so companies know that if they break the rules there are consequences. Here's a our brief guide to the issues.

The Regulation is being considered by committees in the European Parliament now. Civil society groups from across the EU have joined together to campaign on this (see the campaign site.) Your MEPs need to hear from you to make sure they understand people care about their privacy.

 

What you can do now

If you are in the North West or South West of England please contact your MEPS now. They are voting next week (on Wednesday 20th February) in the Industry, Research and Energy Committee (ITRE). Some of the amendments they have put forward are very damaging, suggesting they will vote to weaken the Regulation.

If you are in theNorth West: please contact your MEP Sajjad Karim:

Party: Conservative
Contact Tel (Brussels): +32(0)2 28 45640
E-mail: sajjad.karim@europarl.europa.eu

If you are in the South West: please contact your MEP Giles Chichester:

Party: Conservative
Contact Tel (Brussels): +32(0)2 28 45296
E-mail: giles.chichester@europarl.europa.eu

See our quick guide to the key issues for more detail on what is at stake.

If you are not in these constituencies, you can find out who your MEP. Contact them and tell them you care about data protection rights and want to see a strong regulation.  You will likely need to contact them again when further votes take place. 

What should I say?

ITRE Committee

If you are contacting Sajjad Karim MEP or Giles Chichester MEP, you can talk about the basic need to support strong data protection rights and highlight that this is an unique opportunity to promote citizens' rights to privacy and data protection. We have produced a brief guide to the issues.

If you want to go into more detail, there are some specific issues you could address: 

  • The definition of personal data should be broadenough to include data that can 'single out' an individual, not just identify them.

Just because data are not linked to a name does not mean that they are not personal data. It is becoming increasingly possible to identify a person using less and less data, or to “re-identify” someone from data previously considered anonymous.

So we support amendment 323, which takes into account the notion of ‘singling out’. But amendments excluding 'anonymous' or 'pseudonymous' data weaken the definition. Truly anonymous data is excluded, by definition, by Article 4 (1). However, 'anonymised' data is rarely if ever such. "De-anonymisation" is increasingly recognised as impossible.

  • Consent must be explicit, informed and freely given.

Amendments that undermine this significantly weaken the Regulation and undermine the principle that people should be given more control over what happens to their personal information.

So we would like to see amendment 198 rejected because it waters down the notion of consent and proposes to change ‘explicit’ to ‘unambiguous’ consent.“Explicit” needs to be kept in the text! We need to defend the right to say yes or no to the collection of our data.

  • The 'legitimate interest' provision means businesses can get away with all sorts of processing without people's consent, offering a convenient loophole for abusive or excessive processing.

We would like to see amendments that restrict this to exceptional circumstances. Amendments that extend this further, for instance to third parties, would be particularly damaging and should be rejected.

  • Data portability should be supported, as it gives people meaningful control over their data, helps them avoid ‘lock in’ to particular services and drive competition.

So we would like to see amendments 501 & 502 rejected as they undermine this opportunity. The UK Government are actively promoting the MiData initiative in the UK - it makes no sense to reject this in the EU. Citizens’ right to choose the best company and not be locked-in to services must be supported.

  • We need stronger controls over profiling. Through the information they give away, people are being ‘mapped’ and their profiles evaluated, analysed and used to predict behaviour. That influences how they are treated. People need the right to know about and object to profiling in all its forms. That is especially important for sensitive information such as health data.

We do not support amendments which weaken the controls over profiling. Amendment 538 should be supported since we need increased protection with regard to profiling.

  • Those who hold and use data must be held accountable. 

So, for example, we support amendments 673 and 675 because that would help make sure that data breaches are reported and not, as EDRi put it, "swept under the rug".

For more information on what this vote in ITRE is about, see the campaign site put together by EDRi.

For full details of the Regulation, see the EDRi site www.protectmydata.eu

 

More Background

What is being proposed?

The Regulation, proposed in January 2012, would give you more control over your personal information and help make sure businesses that handle data play by the rules. It strengthens the right to consent to data collection and processing; it would give you stronger rights to access your data and have it deleted; and it would make sure companies are more accountable for their mistakes or abuses when handling personal information. It is a badly needed update to the existing, weak law.

What is happening now?

The proposed Regulation is currently being looked at by a number of Committees in the European Parliament. The 'lead' Committee is the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee (LIBE). They will write an opinion that includes suggested changes to the Regulation. That will influence the final big vote in the European Parliament later in the year. The LIBE Committee have to take into account the opinion of several other Committees when they write their report. That means the votes in the other Committees are really important.

What is the problem?

The Regulation is coming under sustained lobbying attack from technology companies, the US Government, the ad industry, the UK Government and even the UK's Information Commissioner. They are all suggesting changes that would undermine your control over your personal information and weaken the obligations on the people who collect and use it.

A number of 'amendments' to the law that have been written by industry lobbyists. Lots of the amendments that the Committee will vote on would make the Regulation significantly weaker. We need to make sure the MEPs understand people care about this issue, and that they should be supporting their constituents.

Fr more, see our guide to the issues. EDRi have put together a comprehensive overview of the Regulation.

If you need more information please get in touch with Peter Bradwell: peter@openrightsgroup.org

 

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February 05, 2013 | Peter Bradwell

Golden Eye write to alleged copyright infringers

Here is what to do if you receive a letter

Just under 1,000 broadband subscribers in the UK received letters in December from O2 or Be Broadband, saying that the company is passing on their name and address details to a company called Golden Eye.

Last week, Golden Eye International sent the first batch of 'pre-action' letters to about 150 of those people. The letters threaten court action for alleged copyright infringement via p2p file-sharing networks. The allegations concern copyright infringement of various 'Ben Dover Productions' films.

Golden Eye will be sending out the remaining letters in stages over this month.

The letters mainly involve O2 broadband customers, and some BE Broadband customers (both are owned by Telefonica UK).

For some background to this, see Consumer Focus' outline of the case, and our blog on the original case.

Consumer Focus have also posted a blog on what to do if you receive a letter. 


Advice for those who have received letters

1. What to do if you have only received a letter from O2 or Be Broadband

The letters from O2 or Be are simply to inform you that they have handed over information about you to Golden Eye. You do not need to take action or seek advice from Citizens Advice at this stage – but understanding what is happening is important. It is likely you will receive a letter in the near future from Golden Eye. 

2. What to do if you have received a letter from Golden Eye

These are 'pre-action' letters. The wording of the letters was set by the court. You can download and check if the letters look how they should. If your letter does not look like this, that is really important. It is something you should let Citizens Advice know about.

Regardless of whether you (as one of the relevant O2 or Be Broadband customers) are guilty of the alleged infringement, you need to respond to Golden Eye within 28 days, setting out whether you deny the allegation, or admit to copyright infringement.

Free and confidential help is at hand. Consumer Focus and Citizens Advice have worked together to establish detailed advice scripts for alleged copyright infringement. The legal system is devolved, therefore Citizens Advice has prepared suitable advice scripts for England and Wales, for Scotland and for Northern Ireland.

Citizens Advice provides free advice and are able to advice O2 and BE customers regardless of whether they are guilty or not. The advice is free and confidential.

If it turns out that the copyright infringement was committed by a child in the household, Citizens Advice will be able to advise O2 and BE customers on possible courses of action.

Visit www.adviceguide.org.uk or call 08454 04 05 06 from 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday. Alternatively, visit your local Citizens Advice Bureau – find the details online at www.adviceguide.org.uk or look under C in the phone book.

You are welcome to get in touch with us if you would like to discuss this. But we can't offer you the sort of legal advice now about how to respond to the letters, so this should not be a substitute for you contacting Citizens Advice. 


3. Why have I received this letter?

Golden Eye International (GEIL) represents the pornography producer Ben Dover.

You have received the letter because GEIL obtained a so-called Norwich Pharmacal Order forcing O2 (or rather its parent company, Telefónica UK) to give GEIL your name and address on the basis that you are a subscriber to its Internet service and GEIL claims to have observed an IP address associated with your account distributing files in infiringement of copyright. 

The next step is the letter from GEIL. That includes a demand for a sum of money in settlement of the rights holder's claim. The letter also threatens court proceedings should you not respond.


4. More background: what do they know?

First, the High Court recognised in its decision that the subscriber - the bill payer for an Internet connection - may well not be the individual that has committed an alleged infringement. Most internet connections in the UK are shared.

Golden Eye can identify IP addresses relating to alleged infringement, which then identify an internet connection. That does not identify a device or the individual using it.

Second, it is important to stress the quality of the evidence on which the accusation against you is based may be dubious.

Peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing is a system of distributing files across the Internet (often also called "torrenting"). The key element is that file-sharing is decentralised, so that there is no central server that holds copies of these files; instead, users connect directly to each other. Someone who downloads (receives) a file is also simultaneously uploading (distributing, or sending) the parts of the file they have already received. If there were a central server, rights holders who believe the works they own are being copied without authorisation would simply seek to shut that down. As that approach is impossible with file-sharing, rights holders seek to identify and stop consumers directly.

All Internet users are familiar with the names sites use to identify themselves online: Google.com, OpenRightsGroup.org, and so on. Networked computers, however, identify themselves and send traffic to each other using numbers called IP (for Internet Protocol) addresses.

Every ISP is assigned a pool of these addresses. When you connect to the Internet your Internet service provider (whether you use broadband, dial-up modem, wifi, or mobile) assigns an address in their pool to the device you're using to connect (whether that's a network router, a mobile phone, or a computer). How long you keep a particular address depends on the kind of connection you have and your ISP's policy. Businesses and some consumers have "static" IP addresses: numbers they have been permanently assigned.

Most consumers and all mobile or dial-up connections, however, have "dynamic" IP addresses that are assigned randomly for a limited period of time. ISPs keep logs showing which of their subscribers used which of its pool of numbers at any given time.

File-sharing software uses these numbers to connect file-sharers to each other - and makes no effort to hide them. Rights holders accordingly use special software to monitor these connections and record the IP addresses, along with the date and time, of users spotted sharing copies of the works they own.

To find out who was using the IP number at a particular time, a rights holder must obtain a court order known as a "Norwich Pharmacal Order" against your ISP. The ISP then matches the IP addresses the rights holder has recorded against its logs and advises the rights holder of the subscriber's identity.

That's the theory. In practice, this system is far from perfect and the fact that you've been accused does necessarily not mean you are guilty.

More information on the allocation, tracing and matching of IP addresses can be found in a report by Dr Richard Clayton, which takes you through all the steps and explains what can go wrong: Online traceability: Who did that? – Technical expert report on collecting robust evidence of copyright infringement through peer-to-peer filesharing


5. What does the accusation mean?

Copyright actions of this nature are civil, not criminal cases; civil cases are assessed on the balance of probabilities rather than the principle of beyond reasonable doubt. Under the High Court's decision in July 2012, GEIL must demonstrate that you were personally involved in copying or sharing of all or part of the work.

However, the IP address and the time of the alleged infringement is the only evidence GEIL has. Such evidence has never been fully tested by a UK court, and so far it has not been establish whether the evidence proves beyond reasonable doubt that a copyright infringement has occurred on an Internet connection. Accordingly, all GEIL actually knows is that O2 identified you as the subscriber matched to the IP address, date, and time. This information is not always reliable, and similar cases in the past have produced many unjust accusations.

When the High Court granted the Norwich Pharmcal Order it merely examined whether on the face of it, the evidence suggests that a copyright infringement has been committed on the Internet connection as identified by an IP address. It will be for courts to test the evidence in a fully contested case. Because Internet connections are typically shared, in granting the order the court also ruled that consumers identified as above could not be presumed guilty. 

If you do not recognise the material you are accused of downloading or sharing, there are a number of possible reasons why you might have been unjustly linked to it: someone else in your household might have used the connection; an open wifi connection might have allowed an outsider to piggyback on your connection; IP addresses can be spoofed, redirected, or hijacked; or the information might simply be wrong.


6. What should I do now?

Do not panic. Get advice from Citizens Advice (see below). Do not send money or admit guilt until or unless you are advised to do so by someone competent.


7. Where to get advice

If you have received a letter from O2 or Be

At this stage you do not need to seek advice. You will likely receive a letter in the future from Golden Eye. At that stage, it is important to seek advice.

If you receive a letter from Golden Eye

Consumer Focus and Citizens Advice have worked together to establish detailed advice scripts for alleged copyright infringement. The legal system is devolved, therefore Citizens Advice has prepared suitable advice scripts for England and Wales, for Scotland and for Northern Ireland.

Citizens Advice provides free advice and are able to advice O2 and BE customers regardless of whether they are guilty or not.

If it turns out that the copyright infringement was committed by a child in the household, Citizens Advice will be able to advise O2 and BE customers on possible courses of action.

Visit www.adviceguide.org.uk or call 08454 04 05 06 from 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday. Alternatively, visit your local Citizens Advice Bureau – find the details online at www.adviceguide.org.uk or look under C in the phone book.

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February 04, 2013 | Peter Bradwell

Even more delays to the Digital Economy Act

The Digital Economy Act's Sharing of Costs Order has been withdrawn - another procedural complication that will delay implementation even further.

Maybe it is cursed. Maybe it is simply the subject of an incredible series of unfortunate events. Or, maybe the Digital Economy Act is burdened with the legacy of a botched Parliamentary process that has resulted in its implementation being a long, drawn out and complex mess.

We have been informed that the Sharing of Costs Order - a Statutory Instrument made to fill in the detail of powers created by the Digital Economy Act - has been withdrawn. The result is another delay to implementation of the Act. How much of a delay is not clear.

The Cost Order was laid before Parliament towards the end of last year. It has been withdrawn because of concerns from the Treasury about whether the Costs Order complies with their Managing Public Money guidelines (which you can download and read for your self, if you really want to).

Ofcom are spending hefty amounts of public money, which ultimately would be paid back by copyright owners participating in the scheme. The Government maintains the issue now is technical compliance with the guidelines. The exact reasons are not clear. But the fact that Ofcom are stumping up many millions of pounds with apparently no clear commitment from copyright owners about who will pay it back and when could be part of the problem.

The Government had hoped to see letters being sent out by mid 2014. With work still to be done on setting up the appeals body, in addition to clearing the Costs Order and Initial Obligations Code with the EU, it seems very unlikely they will hit that target. We are approaching the third anniversary of the Act’s royal assent and its almost certain that the 2014 deadline for implementation won’t be met.

As we suggested the Culture, Media and Sport Committee on January 22nd, the ongoing mess is in large part down to a botched Parliamentary debate. The previous Government's failure to take enough time to consider the details of the Bill, and its implementation through statutory instrument, or to consider the technical and legal issues - from sharing of costs to the threat to publicly available wifi - in sufficient detail has unsurprisingly led to the mess being cleared up after the passing of the Act through the drafting of the Initial Obligations Code and Sharing of Costs Order. (See our written submission to the CMS Committee here).

Together with other organisations we wrote to the deputy Prime Minister to ask for the impact assessment of the Digital Economy Act 2010 to be re-done in light of recent Ofcom research into online copyright infringement.

Before DCMS and Ofcom and the Treasury spend even more money on implementing this ill thought through law, the Government should take a step back and consider whether the Act is workable and effective. The fact that some of the copyright owners seem to baulk at paying for the Act, would indicate that even they don’t believe the three strikes system will result in a 70 percent reduction in online copyright infringement, as projected by the impact assessment.

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January 30, 2013 | Ruth Coustick-Deal

The Coalition's New Year’s resolution list

They are a bit late sending them through, but luckily the Government have passed us their new year’s resolution list to look over.

They are a bit late sending them through, but luckily the Government have passed us their new year’s resolution list to look over, and we thoroughly approve:

1.     Put the Snoopers Charter in the bin. Then do a fundamental review of surveillance law in the digital age.

2.     Proper reform of illiberal speech laws such as "section 127(A)"

3.     Personal information policies, such as the EU Data Protection Regulation, that give people more rights and control over their data.

4.     Protections to make sure pupil, patient and other personal data is never sold by us to private companies.

5.     No mandating "default on" ISP filtering

6.     Inclusive, evidence based copyright policy-making that promotes creators' rights, freedom of expression and privacy

7.     Repeal of the Digital Economy Act

8.     Implementation of reforms to copyright that permit useful activities like format shifting and parody 

9.     The publishing of core reference data - such as postcodes, detailed maps and information from companies house - as open data

10.   We will stop demanding internet companies police the Internet

11.   Increased transparency around injunctions that lead to the blocking of content online

Well, actually that's not their real list. We wrote it. But wouldn't it be lovely if it was true?

Let's hope our ambitious wishlist becomes fact in 2013.

We will be campaigning on these eleven issues and more. If you want to help put make these an achievements list, please join ORG or get involved with our work.

 

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January 24, 2013 | Ruth Coustick-Deal

What is the Government's online child protection policy?

Is the Daily Mail in charge of child protection policy making?

 I would prefer to be writing an article with a headline that doesn't have a question mark at the end. But the Government seems to determined to confuse and frustrate those wishing to understand their position on parental controls and Internet filtering. 

 A month ago we had a clear idea - a response from government that said no to default on filtering
 
Now it seems there is a very real danger that the Government will abandon this reasonable policy (which is barely a month old) and look at default on censorship. Ed Vaizey MP yesterday gave a speech suggesting that 'Protection will automatically be on if parents don't make choices'. He promised a white paper later in the year that could be the vehicle for this policy. 

A little background. In December the Department for Education published its response to the consultation about online parental controls. In it they set out a pretty reasonable position, broadly supporting the idea that parents are best placed to make decisions about the protections necessary in their household, and should be supported in doing so.

We were quite pleased that the Government had seemingly listened to the views of the consultation respondents, looked at the available evidence and come to a decent policy position. They would not be mandating 'on by default' Internet filtering.

Only a few days later the Prime Minister soured the mood in an article for the Daily Mail, suggesting that in fact the Government would pursue a much stricter line. It was lightning quick policy scrambling. Whilst he didn't explicitly mention default on filtering, he did say two things that set alarm bells ringing. As we pointed out at the time:

1. A complex technical solution. He laid out some quite detailed specifications defining how filtering tools should work - with some confusion about what will be on or off by default. 
 
2. He appointed Claire Perry MP to lead the implementation of these policies. This is like putting Julian Assange in charge of implementing extradition policy. She has led the campaign for default-on filters, and with the Daily Mail have a sort of neo Mary Whitehouse campaign under way. Putting her in charge gives a strong suggestion that someone in Government wants to do more than help parents make choices about online safety and want to start taking those decisions for them.

Ed Vaizey's speech goes further in explicitly saying that if parents dont make a choice filters will be on, and suggesting that these ideas will be laid put in a White Paper. Internet filters block too much - health sites, shops, personal blogs, political sites, restaurants and bars, community forums. They do not simply catch pornography but involve businesses making subjective decisions about what is appropriate for young people of all ages, including things like 'esoteric behaviour'.

The filters take decisions about what is right for a family or household out of parents' hands. In mandating default on ISP filters, the Government would be helping create an infrastructure of censorship that would be ripe for abuse and prone to mistakes. And such filters do nothing to help with some of the serious issues related to 'sexting' that were researched by Professor Andy Phippen in his work for NSPCC.

The Government was on the right track. They had listened to the evidence and looked like they would help parents make their own decisions about managing their children's safety online. It should not change direction because the Daily Mail, whose hypocrisy in the search for sales and clicks is obvious, felt they had more mileage in it. 

We shall be seeking clarification as soon as possible.

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January 02, 2013 | Peter Bradwell

Online gift shop blocked by mobile networks

[Update 10th January 2013] The blocks on the website has now been removed. Whilst this is good news, we hope it won't take a blog from Open Rights Group to resolve all cases of over-blocking.] 

This morning we had another report of an incorrect block on mobile networks, via our website www.blocked.org.uk. This time the website is http://www.foreverandeternity.co.uk/. The site offers personalised, engraved gifts. It does not seem to contain any 'adult' material. 

This is an online shop - meaning the block was affecting their ability to sell their products. The block was spotted and reported to Virgin Mobile in early December. The problem has not yet been fixed. So the block was in effect over Christmas, and will have affected the site's ability to reach their market in one of the more important retail periods of the year. 

We have so far confirmed the site is blocked on Virgin Mobile and Orange. We also checked on O2's handy URL checker, and the site is classified as 'tobacco' (although the site is not blocked on O2's default blocking service.) 

One of the categories of products sold by the site is "smoking accessories" - meaning engraved lighters, cigar cutters and so on.  So it seems likely that the filtering systems that Virgin and Orange use picked up on those words and concluded the site is unsuitable for under 18s. 

The report of the block was submitted to us by the owner of the website David Thompson this morning. When we followed this up, Mr Thompson told us that he had tried to report the mistake to Virgin (as a Virgin customer) in early December but had no success yet sorting out the problem. 

The initial response from the advisor at Virgin seems to echo what we found last year for our mobile Internet censorship report (see the appendix in our our report.)

Initially they suggested they could remove the block from Mr Thompson's phone. This of course would do nothing to help everyone else access his site. And the advisor did not know how to get the site removed from the blocking system. They recommended Mr. Thompson get in touch with theteam@virginmobile.com. He did so on 10th December last year and is still awaiting a reply. 

Mr Thompson discovered the block when he got a new phone last year. Had he not done so he may not have ever challenged the mistake. Also, it is not easy to establish if a business is blocked on other networks. And what if website owners are just curious as to whether mobile filtering systems have decided they are worth blocking? Why is there no way, aside from O2's URL checker, for people to check this more easily? 

This story highlights some of the key issues with default network filtering. For example, the systems tend to block too much. Those who run sites will not necessarily be aware that they are blocked. And it can be hard to correct mistakes and get sites removed from filters when they shouldn't be there. 

We have contacted Virgin and Orange about the block, and their process for dealing with reports of mistakes, and will update you with news when we hear it. 

Default filters and government policy

We had thought we were making progress with policy makers on the problems with default on filtering - the Department for Education published a welcome response to their consultation that stated they would look to support parents in making their own decision about what is appropriate for their families. However, only a few days later the Prime Minister confused matters with his article in the Daily Mail. Our previous blog post on this has more detail. In short, it is not clear exactly what the Government's position is. 

Along with Index on Censorship, Big Brother Watch, Coadec and Taxpayers Alliance we have asked for a briefing on exactly what the policy now is. We will keep you posted. 

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