Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The Great Firewall of gov.uk

"He, whose long wall the wand'ring Tartar bounds..."Alexander Pope, The Dunciad

Employees of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency have recently discovered that they no longer had access to our blog, which, we would like to think, is quite pleasant and informative.
Yet, the fretful nannies in the MCA/DfT have decided that our website has become inappropriate for the readership of these institutions and filtered it out of reach.
Now I remember that, some time ago, the Treasury Solicitor himself advised that he also had had difficulties in accessing our site, which had probably been rated as unsuitable for the innocent eyes at the TSol.

Has our enlightened government somehow perceived the materials published on our blog as containing strong language, nudity or violence? Are we to assume that the government’s Cyber Patrols only allow access to web content labelled with “ Fun for ages 3 to 6” or classed as “Suitable to all ages, without the accompaniment of a parent or legal guardian”?

Or could they have decided, like the old Beotians, to ban all reasons for contrariety?

Update

It now appears that our site was not the only one to have been banned from the MCA/DfT desktops.
The MCA advises that it does not permit access to websites categorised as ‘social networking’, in general. That is their employees cannot access any blogspot sites.
(Anyway, it seems that our other web page:
www.freewebs.com/inconvenientcitizen has, so far, escaped the ideological purge and is still accessible to the MCA.)

Now I wonder: if you don’t want your staff to network with those dangerous reactionaries in the Blogger community, wouldn’t it be enough to simply tell them so?

3 comments:

IanP said...

It would appear that it is more akin to selective censorship.

Social networking is a completely different media to blogging which the government is totally aware of.

If this ban is generalised, which I doubt (as I get an awful lot of hits, as do other blogs, from gsi.gov.uk, mod, parliament and other government web sites), then it would mean that they are indeed further distancing government from the public.

Parliament paid out taxpayer money so that MP's could join in the blog community, are these sites to be blocked also?

I believe that this selective censorship is possibly a degree of proof that you must be hitting the right nails on the head.

gadfly said...

Ian,

Thanks for your recent comments and for the articles on your blog, which I always read with interest.

The filtering of the blogspot sites by government bodies is not, I hope, a generalised phenomenon.
As far as I am aware, the Maritime & Coastguards Agency and its parent: the Department for Transport have only recently introduced this ban.
As I mentioned in my post, the Treasury Solicitor also informed me, a while ago, of similar problems at his end which, I must admit, I didn’t treat very seriously at the time.

The MCA assured me last week that “there is no specific blocking of this particular website” and stated that “like many other organisations” it did not permit access to any sites categorised as ‘social networking’. A blogspot site, it was also claimed, “falls into that definition through its own self-categorisation”. (?!)
As such, Ian Dale’s diary, Sandra Gidley’s blog etc. etc., all hosted by Blogger, can no longer be viewed. Blogs published on different systems are, however, still accessible.

Anyway, I don’t think that the way these institutions filter web content is decided by their respective IT departments, but by policy makers higher up the hierarchy scale.

Finally, the fact that this ban may not be generalised is hardly any consolation: if some parts of the government can do it, it may soon become the norm. (After all, one would expect consistent IT policies across government departments.)

gadfly said...

I’ve also heard that certain UK booksellers are now filtering out blogsites to prevent their employees from accessing ‘inappropriate web content’.

(!!!)