No evidence that ‘esoteric’ websites will be censored by the UK government

I am really busy, so this will have to be a quickie post – but I am working on a longer one, when I can get the information together.*

Here are the facts as I currently understand them (and I have done a fair bit of research on this, including searching for Freedom of Information requests and spending several hours trying to find reliable news articles on the subject).

1. There is currently absolutely no evidence that the UK government plans to censor ‘esoteric’ websites. Here are the facts on what’s happening. The UK government is indeed asking Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to offer ‘opt-out’ internet filtering. The government has not suggested any categories of websites to be filtered, except for pornography.

2. No law is being passed on this. It is a government policy that they are planning to implement through the ISPs only. It will probably be left up to ISPs as to what they censor.

3. Nothing is being automatically censored. Currently, it looks like you will be fully within your rights to click ‘NO’ when you are asked if you want to filter certain categories of websites. You will be asked this when you first set up your home internet. If you click ‘YES’, you will be asked which categories of websites you want to block. You can un-select any category you want. You can still see porn if you want, or you can filter porn and keep any other categories that are offered. There is no evidence that your name will be passed to the government if you don’t want to filter websites, which is one (ridiculous) rumour I’ve heard about this.

4. The rumours of this are based on this Open Rights Group article. This is not, as some have claimed, based on a Freedom of Information request to the government, or any statement from the government at all. Open Rights simply went to the ISPs and said, what will your filters look like? They then published example categories that were offered to them. These examples seem to be categories that are already offered to private companies who want to censor websites. (For example, McDonald’s offers free wifi in its restaurants, but there are a large number of types of websites that you can’t see there. That’s within McDonald’s rights to do, because they are providing the internet service.)

5. As yet, the government doesn’t seem to know what it’s doing with opt-in [edit: I meant opt-OUT]** censorship. It seems to be planning to reply on the Internet Service Providers to decide what to offer people as censorship categories. Some of the other initially-rumoured categories have included ‘web forums’ and ‘blogs’. We don’t seem to be losing the plot over that yet, though.

6. Censorship is, in my opinion, a bad thing. I dislike the idea of opt-out parental controls for the internet. They are a very blunt instrument, a wide net that catches a lot of things that don’t need filtering. That, however, is a separate issue. I have signed a petition against this censorship. If you dislike internet censorship too, here are two petitions you can sign: this one is just for UK residents or ex-pats, and this one is more general and I believe can be signed by anyone.

I was quoted about this issue over at The Wild Hunt. (It’s towards the end of the article.)

A more detailed post will follow, when I get a chance to write one. I have asked Open Rights whether they’re willing to give a statement for the Divine Community podcast. They may not have time to do so, of course (and they have already edited their article to point out very clearly that these are example categories, so they really don’t have to). I will also try to contact the government about this – they’re even more likely not to respond, but I can only try.

– Naomi Catherine Jacobs
Co-host of Divine Community podcast

*It also doesn’t really belong on this blog. I was already in the process of setting up a sociology of religion/Pagan-community-and-society blog. I’ll get it set up faster now, and write about this there!

**For those who have come to this blog post from a referral, and do not know me or have not read my other posts: I have an autistic spectrum condition and sometimes make mistakes. A reader pointed out this one, so I have edited – but I’m not inclined to make it look like I never made the error, which would be dishonest.

14 thoughts on “No evidence that ‘esoteric’ websites will be censored by the UK government

  1. The situation is exactly as you describe it, thank you.
    However the fact there is no ‘evidence’ of the specifics does not alter the direction of travel – which is clear for all to see. The default is NOT the mainstreaming of esoteric knowledge, in fact quite the opposite

    The proposals – even as they stand – should raise warning signs for all free thinkers, yet all I seem to encounter is ‘these are not the droids you are looking for, move along’. I have changed my name to Cassandra as a result.

    With respect and appreciation for your work.

    • I leave it to others to draw conclusions from the facts. You may be right – but I think there’s every chance that we can campaign to the ISPs under the Human Rights Act, especially if our information and networking sites do end up being caught in their nets. The most important thing is not to panic, and then to make a plan of action based on the facts, in my opinion.

      It’s hard to say who the ‘free thinkers’ are in this issue. I have been called one of the ‘sheeple’ today, for collecting facts and doing solid research – but yesterday, everyone was posting about inquisitions, about the banning of Paganism, and other nonsense. People were reacting to rumours before they had the facts to hand. But, as I say, I leave the conclusions to others, as this blog post goes. I may debate the issue on my podcast at a later date, but I will need to do further research first.

  2. I have been posting a lot about this on my wall as articles became available (mostly all based on the Open Rights Group thing).

    Several people have commented that because of “porn” filters in use by local authorities, LGBT websites are unavailable to social workers etc. (because lesbian is a porn keyword, apparently).

    Also, we should not be throwing porn under the bus. Many LGBT people found our identities affirmed by looking at same-sex porn, which provides positive images of gay sex. The kink and polyamory communities, and other legal activities for consenting adults, would suddenly find their websites filtered.

    • I agree entirely. My partner works at an LGBT helpline where they are very worried that this could prevent young people, for example, from being able to contact them via their website. I’m much more worried about that, and about the implications for sexual health, support for young people with mental health problems, and (as you mention) kink and other sex-positive communities, and many other things that may be prevented by the kinds of health- and sex-related categories that have been suggested as possible things that the ISPs might filter. I do personally think we should be campaigning about this. But we also need all the facts first, especially on the tricky concept of whether ‘esoteric’ sites will be filtered.

  3. It is commonplace within ‘esoteria’ (blanket term, you know what i mean) to do a reading on a uncertain matter and act accordingly. When I say reading I mean taking the situation as it is – the facts as they are known – and using a tool and/or sensitivity to divine where the situation is heading.
    Yet on this matter we have people relying on the facts only. Surely the whole point of involvement in the esoteric is to utilise hidden knowledge and skills and move beyond mere facts.
    My reading is that the direction of travel is dangerous and concerning and that the slide toward hard regulation of esoteria is on. Your reading may be different – fair enough – but I would ask all to consider that once we have the ‘facts’ it might be too late.

  4. “No law is being passed on this. It is a government policy that they are planning to implement through the ISPs only.”

    Unless the ISPs don’t play ball, in which case the Government has said that it will legislate.

    “Nothing is being automatically censored.”

    The default is that the filters are on, so things are automatically censored.

    “As yet, the government doesn’t seem to know what it’s doing with opt-in censorship.”

    It’s not opt-in. You have to opt out of that. The advantage from the Government POV is that opting out means that you’ve put yourself on a shortlist as a person of interest. It thus makes GCHQ’s haystack smaller.

    • As for your other points: default opt-out filtering is not the same as blanket censorship, since people can choose whether or not accept it. Internet censorship is what happens in China. You have no choice whether or not accept real censorship. Yes, people will be censored if they don’t do anything – but they have free will, and control of these settings.

      The government has said it will *consider* legislation if the ISPs don’t comply. That’s not the quite the same thing as saying it *will* legislate. In fact, we probably have more of a chance for public debate and widespread protest if they take that step – as much as I’d rather stop this in its tracks before that.

      I am NOT in favour of this move. I have signed the petition against it, am working to raise awareness, and I am dedicating time on my podcast AND appearing on another podcaster’s show, in order to try and argue that this is a very bad move and one that we should be campaigning against. Where in this post have I said that I support this policy? I detest most of what our Tory-led coalition does, and this hardly surprises me, given their track record with civil liberties.

      What I am *not* in favour of is the Pagan community jumping to conclusions that, quite frankly, make us look like poorly educated, reactionary half-wits who can’t be bothered to read. Yesterday’s palaver on online Pagan channels was in response to an entirely unconfirmed rumour in a single blog post. I think we can do better, and that’s why I spent an extremely long time researching and writing this post, and also sourcing a comment from Open Rights Group, which I will share on my podcast and its linked blog soon. I haven’t seen any other Pagans doing the same, and that’s why I’ve done it. If people think I’m wrong, they should by all means enter the debate on their own blogs and explore the issue further, in informed detail. I’d really like to see that – we need intelligent debate in the community on this issue.

  5. Whilst I have a degree of relief at the content of this article, the fact remains that the IPS’s have suggested that ‘esoteric’ material may be included within their filters. Regardless of who suggests its inclusion- this is still a bad thing. I do not agree that the government will not store names of those who ‘opt-out’ of filters- recent revelations on Prism and GCHQ activity tells us that this must be a given anyway. If we are perfectly honest- all of our interests online including amazon and facebook all form a data profile of us that could be used easily if anyone wished to target pagans.

  6. Pingback: Web censorship and the ‘new witch hunt’ in the UK via ISP’s | the Road to Asgard

  7. Pingback: No evidence that ‘esoteric’ websites will be censored by the UK government | Nathaniel J. Harris

  8. Sorry, the story here is way too blasé. There already seem to be sites blocked by certain providers, that’s how I heard about it — a petition was organised by someone who experienced it for himself and found it had happened to others as well. If you look here, he talks about how it began, in an internet café:

    I was stunned to find that I could not access my own website as it was blocked for “religious” content. The message on the screen told me it was classified under “Alternative Spirituality/Belief”, and access was categorically blocked.”

    This means ISPs are already pre-ticking the esoterica category, and some people are sticking with those default settings, whether knowingly or not. So this has already gone beyond the mere suggestion, for certain. “Esoterica” is apparently identified as such by unelected employees of Huawei.

    I will indeed blog about it more myself including some thoughts on how it happened that esoterica made it into the same category as porn. But I am going to do a lot more digging first. But this is way beyond the “pagan community”, of which I’m not a member.

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