December 19, 2012 | Ruth Coustick-Deal

ORG Law Fund reaches its goal!

Open Rights Group has raised enough new funds to allow us to recruit a part-time Legal Officer.

I am delighted to tell you that, thanks to your generosity we have now raised enough to be able to fund Open Rights Group’s first Legal Officer.

Thank you very much to all of you who supported our ORG Law Fund, by joining, sharing the campaign on Facebook or Twitter, passing  our videos round on YouTube, telling your friends about our work and signing them up. It is wonderful to see so much support and enthusiasm for ORG.

When we launched the campaign on 2 November 2012 we said that we wanted to reach 150 supporters, the minimum needed to have enough funds to pay for a part-time legal officer:  we now have enough to finance this position.

If you would still like to support our Law fund, please do. If we reach 300 new supporters  we will be able to fund the new position on a full time basis and give ORG an even greater capacity for legal work.  It’s a great time to join ORG as we look back on a year of successes  - defeating ACTA, stopping default censorship and preventing the draft Communications Data Bill becoming law. I encourage you to join and enable us to have more victories as we take on this new project in the coming year.

What will the new position do?

  • Expand and organise our legal panel scheme where individuals can request pro-bono legal advice on digital rights issues

  • Prepare friend of the court briefings to explain the civil liberties consequences of web blocking injunctions

  • Provide technical advice to the courts where proposals would be unworkable or have unforeseen circumstances

  • Draft amendments to delete or replace misused powers, such as Section 127 A, which was used to prosecute Paul Chambers in the Twitter joke trial

  • Challenge Government decisions in judicial reviews

  • This new capacity will enable us to build on the amicus curiae (friend of the court) briefing on the Digital Economy Act juridical review where we explained the impact on privacy

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December 17, 2012 | Peter Bradwell

Another church blocked by mobile networks

...just in time for Christmas. In better news, the Government has decided against 'default on' internet blocking

About this time last year we wrote about a church that had been blocked by O2's mobile Internet filters. Following this, we set up, a site which allows people to report 'over-blocking' on their mobile networks.

With somewhat uncanny timing, this morning someone used to tell us about another church (St. Mark's in Southampton) that is blocked - this time on Vodafone. We have confirmed that it is also blocked by Orange. The site is blocked on O2's highest blocking setting, but not on their 'default safety' service.

Using O2's very handy 'URL checker', we have established that they classify the site as 'alcohol'. It is likely that this is the category that has led to its blocking on other networks, but this is not confirmed.

*Update:  Vodafone have confirmed to us that the site has been manually reviewed and the classification of 'alcohol' has been corrected - the site should be unbloked within the next 2 days*

It is likely that the reason for this categorisation is the use of the word 'wine' on the church's website. The church is part of the 'New Wine Network of Churches'. Their website explains that this means they "have the aim of ‘Equipping Churches to see Jesus’ Kingdom Grow'". Their use of the word 'wine' is not related to selling or the use of alcohol.

It's yet another example of how internet filters make simple and costly mistakes which often result in 'over-blocking.' Our report from May this year collected more examples of this. Since then we have seen political parties, technology news websites, and more recently a number of maternity health sites all blocked by mobile networks. It can be tricky and slow to get sites removed from block lists (although mobile networks say this is improving). 

Because of the sheer number of websites there are, most categorisation by filtering services is likely done by an algorithm.

A human could probably spot the difference between a site advocating the force feeding of your kids too much booze, for example, and a church's efforts to express their religious mission. Machines find that more difficult, it seems.

There are broader questions about who makes judgements about what types of sites should be blocked, and what is appropriate for children of different ages. All of which adds up to a need to ensure parents are supported and are able to make decisions for themselves, rather than having decisions made for them. 

...Some good news from the Government on internet blocking - and a thank you

So, now for some better news on this issue; the Department for Education seem to agree with us. On Friday they published their response to the consultation on parental controls online. We had been concerned that they would move towards mandating 'default on' ISP level filtering.

But their response says that default filters and pre-filled forms encouraging filtering will not be pursued. Instead, parents will be asked to install filters and be given help to choose age appropriate settings. The Department are taking the following approach:

…the offer to parents should be reformulated in a way that ensures that children can be given the levels of protection their parents think is appropriate for them, reduces the risk of uninterested parents avoiding online safety issues, and does not impose a solution on adult users or non-parents.

The Government accepted default network filters are problematic for four reasons:

To date, the Government’s approach has been based on expert advice that default filtering can create a false sense of security since:

  • It does not filter all potentially harmful content: given the vast amount of material on the internet, it would not be possible to identify all the possible content to be filtered, and very large numbers of websites are created each day.
  • There is also a risk from “over-blocking” – preventing access to websites which provide helpful information on sexual health or sexual identity, issues which young people may want information on but find difficult to talk to their parents about.
  • It does not deal with harms such as bullying, personal abuse, grooming or sexual exploitation which arise from the behaviour of other internet users.
  • It does not encourage parents to engage with the issues and learn about keeping their children safe online. There is a risk that parents might rely on default filtering to protect their children from all potential online harms and not think about how their children might want to use the internet, the kind of content that is appropriate for each child according to their own circumstances, and the risks and harms their children might face.

ORG have been calling for the government to avoid mandating default on ISP filters for some time (you can read our response to the consultation, and our report on mobile Internet censorship, published jointly with LSE Media Policy Project). We think that they would disrupt harmless websites and likely fail parents and their children.

This is also a win for all the ORG supporters who sent in responses to the consultation. They had a significant effect on the outcome, demonstrating that the public and many parents believe that they should have the opportunity to decide for themselves what works for their family. It's clear from the Department's analysis of responses to the consultation that they received a large number . 

As ever, you deserve a big thank you for taking the time to engage in the consultation. It made a difference.

Last week we sent a fact sheet to MPs, highlighting the best available evidence on online parental controls. This is available to read in the 'Our work' section. 


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December 12, 2012 | Ruth Coustick-Deal

Come along to our MP Lobby Day

On Monday December 17 Open Rights Group will be at Parliament letting MPs know that the Comms Data Bill must go back to the drawing board and calling for a review of digital surveillance.

The Joint Committee’s report on the Comms Data Bill was clear and crushing. They didn’t hold back on criticism of the Home Office, saying that draft bill pays "insufficient attention to the duty to respect the right to privacy, and goes further than it need or should ", describing Home Office evidence as “fanciful and misleading” and regarding the cost estimates as absurd.

However, despite this rather damning picture, the Home Office might ignore the Joint Committee, and their months of work and pages of evidence to  simply push on with their plans for a snooping state. Only last week the Home Secretary argued that there “can be no delay” because otherwise “people will die”(!)  We won’t sit by and let the CDB be pushed through despite the Committee’s Conclusions.

We need to let MPs know that what we need now is a fundamental review of surveillance laws in the digital age. It is absolutely clear that the Home Office cannot be trusted with this task as they have shown no concern for questions of civil liberties.

Please tell your MP that the CDB must go back to the drawing board:

Join us at Parliament

Monday 17 December


Meeting at the Jubilee Café

We will be in the Jubilee café near Westminster Hall all day, available with advice on speaking to your MP, negotiating the corridors of Parliament and with briefings on the CDB and party-specific perspectives on hand. We will also be able to send briefing information in advance and put you in touch with other local activists attending on the same day.

If you’re not sure what to say, don’t worry. We will we be happy to give advice and ideas on what to say when we meet you,  but the real key is to let MPs know that the swathe of public of opinion is against the Bill. A meeting with your MP does not have to be an eloquent speech, just let them know how you feel.

You can book an appointment for Monday to meet your MP via our MP meet up tool. If you are unable to visit London you can also use the form and letter to book an appointment with your MP at their constituency office on a time and date that suits you. If you prefer you can also get in touch with your MP via the switchboard: 020 7219 3000

If you are willing to attend and have severe difficulty getting transport we are willing to pay rail fares for some on a first come, first served basis.

Also we hope that those of you visiting London will join our Christmas party/ London supporter meet-up afterwards. Please come along and join us for a drink.

If you can't come on Monday, but would like to help our campaign against the Communications Data Bill, please consider joining today.

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December 12, 2012 | Peter Bradwell

How the Home Office let their Minister down

A week ago the Home Secretary said that anybody opposed to the draft Communications Data Bill was 'putting politics before lives'. Yesterday the Joint Committee on the draft Communications Data Bill, which was set up to scrutinise the proposals, published its damning report that concluded the draft Bill pays "insufficient attention to the duty to respect the right to privacy, and goes further than it need or should."

The report delivers a pretty withering verdict on the Home Office team responsible for the draft Bill. It calls their evidence 'fanciful and misleading', for example. It's clear that in the way the policy was developed and explained, the Home Office have badly let down the politicians, from the Home Secretary to the Deputy Prime Minister.

It has pushed the former to defend, in good faith but questionable language, what the Committee concluded are ill considered and unsupported proposals. And it has created an unnecessary fissure in the Coalition. All this because of the insular, overambitious and secretive process the Home Office insisted on running.

Below is a non-exhaustive set of examples of the Committee's findings that demonstrate three key Home Office failings: a failure to consult; a failure to properly define the problem; and a failure to adequately explain and support their proposals with good evidence. It is a pretty damning catalogue of issues.

This is why we now need a fundamental review of surveillance law. The Home Office's Snoopers' Charter is a fudge of a solution to the problems of law enforcement in the digital age. They've aptly demonstrated that they should not be entrusted with the review. 

1. The costs and benefits estimates were not robust:

On the supposed financial benefits:

"267. It may be that, for some purposes, it is useful to be able to ascribe a monetary value to a life saved. We fail to understand what relevance this can have in the impact assessment for a draft Bill. The figures are used to attempt to show that the taxpayer, by spending £1.8 billion over ten years, will recoup perhaps three times that amount, when this is not the case. To suggest that these estimates can be used to calculate a net benefit from enactment of the draft Bill at between £3.2 and £4.4 billion is simply fanciful and misleading.

268. The use of figures in this way points to a further absurdity. We are asked to believe that access to a further 10% of communications data over and above the 75% already available would save perhaps a further 150 lives a year. Logically, it should follow that the communications data currently available is saving around 1,000 lives a year, but the Home Secretary told us that the figure was “1,000 to 2,000 lives being saved” over the 10 year period. None of our witnesses could provide specific evidence of significant numbers of lives saved to date.

269. The figure for estimated benefits is even less reliable than that for costs, and the estimated net benefit figure is fanciful and misleading. It ought not to be used to influence Parliament in deciding on the relative advantages and disadvantages of this legislation. Whatever the benefits of the Bill, they are unlikely to be financial." (page 71)

On costs:

"257. …in his subsequent evidence Charles Farr told us that, on the basis of the regular discussions the Home Office had with the UK CSPs on their costs in implementing the RIPA arrangements, “we know in quite a high level of detail what those costs comprise [and] we have already formed the basis of our calculations about the costs that the CSPs may incur in future. We have added in considerable optimism bias on top of that. I would not want you to conclude that we have plucked these figures out of thin air. They are based on existing costs which we have already established with the providers. It is still our view ... that these figures accurately represent the likely cost going out to 2020.” The business case was being “refreshed”, but he did not anticipate that it would come up with a figure higher than £1.8 billion.

258. Mr Farr repeated that this figure “builds in quite a lot of optimism bias”. For Microsoft, Mr Collins had told us: “... the costs will increase. Even if we gave you a figure now, I would be willing to bet money that in 10 years’ time that cost will have multiplied grotesquely.” The figure he was referring to was the cost to CSPs. We think he would be betting on a certainty. Future developments are entirely unpredictable. It is impossible to foresee what new communications providers or forms of communication may emerge, perhaps from overseas, that will suddenly become a significant player and incur recoverable costs. We expect the overall cost to the taxpayer over the next decade to exceed £1.8 billion by a considerable margin." (pages. 68 and 69)

"262. We are concerned that the Home Office’s cost estimates are not robust. They were prepared without consultation with the telecommunications industry on which they largely depend, and they project forward 10 years to a time where the communications landscape may be very different. Given successive governments’ poor records of bringing IT projects in on budget, and the general lack of detail about how the powers under the Bill will be used, there is a reasonable fear that this legislation will cost considerably more than the current estimates." (p. 70)


2. They did not define the problem properly:

"36. We are of the strong view that the 25% data gap is an unhelpful and potentially misleading figure. There has not been a 25% degradation in the overall quantity of communications data available; in fact quite the opposite." (p 16).

"40. It was not long into our inquiry that we began to question the utility of the 25% figure and we asked the Home Office to identify what specific data types are currently missing. After some months the Government agreed to tell us on a confidential basis that there were three main data types that they hoped the legislation would be used to make available. At that point they argued that these data types could not be publicly identified without risking exposing loop holes to criminals. This need for secrecy was one of the drivers for the very broad drafting of clause 1." (p. 18)

"288. The Home Office has argued that there is a case for keeping clause 1 wide because there may be other data types that emerge from time to time which will be important to law enforcement but will not be routinely retained by CSPs for business purposes. We do not accept that this is a good reason to grant the Secretary of State such wide powers now. We do not think that Parliament should grant powers that are required only on the precautionary principle. There should be a current and pressing need for them." (p 75)

3. They did not adequately consult with the Information Commissioner:

"206. We found it hard to understand how additional duties could be imposed on the Information Commissioner without first consulting him, asking him what duties he thought sensible and feasible, whether he would be able to comply with them, and what additional resources he might need to do so. We put this to Home Office officials on 24 October, and Charles Farr replied:

“The Information Commissioner had seen the draft clauses of the Bill which affected him in advance. He had a meeting with the Minister; he had three hours with Richard going through the detail of the legislation."

207. As in the case of the consultation with the CSPs, which we discussed in the preceding chapter, this evidence appeared to contradict what the Information Commissioner had told us. Subsequently however the Home Office agreed that the reference to a “meeting” with the Minister was an error; this was in fact a phone call following the publication of the draft Bill. As to the draft clauses affecting him, the Information Commissioner has told us in a letter of 6 November that he asked on 23 May to see them in advance of a meeting on 31 May; his request was refused, and it was only at that meeting that he was given a copy of those clauses. He was sent a copy of the draft Bill the day before it was published." (p. 55)

"What is clear to us is that the Government has chosen to include in a draft Bill which had a very long gestation a clause imposing on the Information Commissioner additional duties, and that prior to the publication of the Bill there was no consultation with him about those duties, about the information he would need to carry them out, about whether it would in fact be possible for him to undertake those duties, about whether he would need further powers, and about what extra resources he might need. If they hoped that, by inserting this clause in this way, they would be providing an additional safeguard which might allay concerns about the draft Bill, we can only say that they were mistaken." (p. 55 / 56)

4. Failure to consult with CSPs:

"53. What is absolutely clear to us is that the regular meetings with EE and the other major CSPs would have been an unrivalled opportunity for the Home Office to discuss with them the evolving policy and content of the Bill, and to seek their input on the many matters where their technical and general expertise could have made a valuable contribution; and that this opportunity was not taken. The draft Bill is the poorer for it." (p. 22)

"49. ...On behalf of Facebook, Simon Milner said categorically: “We had no dialogue with the Home Office before the Bill was published...we were never asked [for input] and we never provided it.” Similarly, Colin Crowell for Twitter: “We had one conversation with the Home Office about two and a half weeks ago.51 So we, too, were contacted after the Bill had been published and had one phone conversation with them about it.” (p. 20 / 21)

"51. In the case of the overseas providers, Mr Farr told us that he had read their evidence “with a lot of interest”; what he told us was almost the opposite of what they said." (p. 21)

"55. Mr Farr told us: “Parliament and others had a right to see the legislation before we discussed it in detail with overseas providers.” We do not accept this. Parliament has a right to see, on its introduction, a Bill which seeks to implement as fully and clearly as possible the Government’s policy, however controversial that policy may be. If the policy depends to a large extent on whether it can be implemented by a few major international corporations, not to consult them in the formulation of the detailed policy seems unwise. We note that the Intelligence and Security Committee has come to a similar conclusion." (p. 22)

"57. The evidence we received shows that United Kingdom CSPs were not given any details about the possible content of notices before the draft Bill was published, overseas CSPs were not consulted about the draft Bill at all, nor was there any further public consultation."  (p. 22)

"58. Before re-drafted legislation is introduced there should be a new round of consultation with technical experts, industry, law enforcement bodies, public authorities and civil liberties groups. This consultation should be on the basis of the narrower, more clearly defined set of proposals on definitions, narrower clause 1 powers and stronger safeguards which are recommended in this report. The United Kingdom and overseas CSPs should be given a clear understanding of the exact nature of the gap which the draft Bill aims to address so that those companies can be clear about why the legislation is necessary." (p. 22)

5. The lack of a public consultation:

"56. The Home Office should not have assumed that a consultation paper published in April 2009 could justify publication of draft legislation three years later without further consultation with the public and with those most closely affected by its proposals." (p. 22)

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December 11, 2012 | Peter Bradwell

Joint Committee slams Home Office's Snoopers' Charter

They came, they scrutinised, they dismissed.

At 00:01 last night, almost exactly 14 days before Christmas, the Joint Committee on the draft Communications Data Bill delivered an early present. 

The MPs and Lords that had been tasked with scrutinising the Snoopers' Charter delivered a withering assessment in their final report.

The report concludes it pays "insufficient attention to the duty to respect the right to privacy, and goes further than it need or should."

They slammed the Home Office for 'fanciful and misleading' evidence, and for failing to consult on their plans. They said the costs of the draft Bill would exceed the predicted £1.8bn by a 'considerable margin'.

As a result of their insular and secretive policy process, the plans would create 'sweeping' powers that are far too broad.

The Committee also notes that the Government need to rethink how it defines the data involved in digital surveillance, creating a new hierarchy based on levels of intrusiveness.

It adds up to a damning indictment of the proposals and how they were put together. The cross-party Committee examined this draft Bill in extreme detail and with great care over the past 6 months. And they have found the Bill did not bear such scrutiny.

Two things should happen now. We think it's time to drop these dangerous plans and for the government to go back to the drawing board. Second, we need a fundamental, public review of digital surveillance. That's the only way we'll arrive at reasonable, proportionate proposals.

Given what the Committee have said about the Home Office's failures so far, and also given that such a review would involve broader question of justice and civil liberties, this review should not be run by the Home Office.

The findings of the Joint Committee echo the arguments put forward by Open Rights Group and its supporters over the past six months. A big thank you if you responded to the Committee's call for evidence - the report notes that these submissions reflect 'the anxiety felt by large sections of the public about intrusion by the authorities into their private lives.' 

You can read the full Joint Committee report here.

A shorter ORG briefing is available in the 'Our Work' section. More analysis of the Committee's final report will be posted through the day. 

You can read ORG's written submission to the Joint Committee in the 'Our Work' section.

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December 10, 2012 | Ruth Coustick-Deal

ORG Law Fund: Nearly there!

We need just thirty more supporters to reach our goal of funding a new Legal Officer! Please join and help us launch our legal project.

Across November we’ve been running our ORG Law Fund campaign to gain 150 new supporters – enough to fund a part-time Legal Officer for ORG. We took on our first legal case this morning and hope that this is one of many to come, with a legal expert in-house to guide our policies and provide knowledge of the courts and proceedings to ensure we are effective in defending your digital rights. Please read more about what the new position will do here.

We’ve nearly got enough to make it: We now have  the equivalent of 122 members

Thank you to the generous supporters who have been giving double what we ask for. We wouldn't be able to do the work we do without the support of people like you.

Please help us reach our goal and get to 150 by Christmas. We just need thirty new supporters to make it!

You can help us change the internet, set legal precedents now and frame the conversation regarding regulating the internet for the future.

There are more and more victims, like Paul Chambers, being arrested for free speech on social media. BPI are increasing the number of web blocking injunctions with insufficient transparency about what will be blocked. GoldenEye still wish to gain personal details relating to thousands of IP addresses because of alleged copyright infringement.  

All of these cases could just as easily be you – arrested for a joke on Facebook, finding your website blocked or your personal details blindly handed over to private companies by your ISP. Joining today allows us to stand up for your rights, enabling us to offer pro bono advice when these situations occur.

As part of the campaign I interviewed a number of ORG supporters,  illuminating all the different reasons people get involved with ORG – and the eclectic range of issues we deal with. They had some great things to say about what they think are the key issues for digital rights and how they first got involved. It was a particular honour to hear these words spoken by such different people when I asked them why they supported ORG:

  • Neil Gaiman spoke strongly about how ORG stand up for creators’ rights against monolithic laws
  • Becky Hogge talked about ORG representing the public interest in the copyright debate
  • Cory Doctorow was worried about computers becoming snitches rather than father confessors – and thought ORG protecting us from all that was amazing
  • Ben Hammersley’s key concern was that people realise that the internet is for everyone and thus everyone should be concerned about the threats to digital rights that ORG campaign on.

Although our Advisory Council members all have different backgrounds and passions they all felt that ORG do so much for the whole country, with our technical expertise and rational vision for the future that, for £5 a month, supporting ORG is a bargain and a wise choice.

This month there are even more reasons to become a member of ORG. It was wonderful to be awarded the Human Rights Campaigner of the Year Award by Liberty in recognition for our work on the Snoopers’ Charter. We’ve take on our first legal case, we’re organising a mass MP lobby day for next week and are building a national campaign against the Communications Data Bill.

With an in-house legal expert able to offer advice, co-ordinate our lawyers and take on new projects ORG will be able to deal with more issues like these.

Please help us make our goal – just thirty new supporters and we’ll be launching our major legal project in the new year!

Join today!

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December 06, 2012 | Jim Killock

Nearly there: £550 needed for GoldenEye appeal!

Update 7 December: we have raised the total!

We’ve raised an astonishing £4,450 so far in our GoldenEye Appeal – which is very encouraging. Many of these donations have come from people who heard about us from news coverage, and have newly placed their trust in ORG.

GoldenEye are seeking the names and addresses of O2 and Be Broadband customers to send them accusations of copyright infringement. We are challenging this.

We’re still short of £550 – which we’d really like before the appeal is heard next week, on 10-11 December.

Please donate if you can!

However, the biggest task with challenging GoldenEye is the need of staff time and expertise to understand the legal implications and opportunities. We’re also extremely keen to find, analyse and republish court injunctions in relation to website blocking.

We want to be able to intervene in future web blocking injunctions: either as a party or friend of the court. We want to be able to argue for transparency and accountability, which as we saw this week, is sorely lacking.

That’s why we need another 30 or 40 people to join ORG so we can start our legal project. Please join today!

Update at 12.15pm: we need only £150 more! 

Update 7 December: we have raised the total! 

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December 05, 2012 | Jim Killock

BPI remove from Pirate Bay block list

The BPI have this afternoon confirmed to us that they have asked ISPs to unblock as the organization responsible for maintaining the list of sites blocked under the injunctions to block the

On Monday, ORG wrote to Virgin, BT, O2, TalkTalk and Sky to ask them why the is being blocked. Virgin confirmed to ORG that the site was supplied to them as a domain to be blocked.

Under the terms of the blocking injunctions, the BPI instruct providers that are subject to the injunctions to block:

“ its domain and sub-domains and any other IP address or url whose sole or predominant purpose is to enable or facilitate access to The Pirate Bay website.”

The had been listed as one of those domains, according to Virgin, and thus it was up to the BPI to instruct the ISPs of the mistake.

We therefore wrote to the BPI to ask them to correct the problem. They wrote back to say that they yesterday instructed ISPs to lift the block.

The incident is rather revealing: it firstly shows that there is a significant need for greater transparency about the nature of blocking injunctions. Secondly, it shows that the BPI have been given a great deal of discretion over what may be blocked. Thirdly, it shows an alarming lack of transparency about what precisely is blocked. Neither ISPs nor the BPI seem keen to disclose what is on the list. It is effectively secret.

We have also written to rights holders, ISPs and groups interested in free speech if they would like to help us with creating a mechanism for greater transparency surrounding injunctions. While injunctions are public documents, they are not routinely published, and require significant resources.

We are likely to get greater resistance around the blocked lists. We will explore this, because, as we have seen this week, it is very problematic.

We’ll be running this transparency website if we get to 150 new members to start our legal project: so please join so we can get going! We’re nearly there – but still need help.

We’re also interested in what the next steps for the IETF’s Error 451 will be: the RFC ends in January. These errors could be very useful for standardizing responses and helping users locate why the blocks take place.

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