As a UK citizen, I am well aware that I live in only a partly free country. In fact, I’m not even classed as a citizen, merely a subject of the Queen, which is nice. However, I wasn’t aware that Britain had a system in place to block access to certain Web sites. But it seems the UK has more in common with China than I previously thought.
The Great Firewall of China, or the Golden Shield Project, is an attempt by the Chinese authorities to stop its citizens from accessing Web sites deemed unsuitable for viewing. This includes blogs and sites containing subversive or anti-communist content. But bizarrely, it also includes the BBC and Wikipedia.
But it seems China isn’t alone in regarding Wikipedia as subversive, with many British Internet users now having their access to the site curtailed. One article in particular cannot be read at all, and any attempts to edit content on any other article results in failure.
The problem, as detailed on Wikinews, is down to an article about an album called Virgin Killer by German band, Scorpions. The album cover, which was banned in many countries upon release in the 1970s, features a naked prepubescent child. Whether this amounts to child pornography or not is debatable, but the Internet Watch Foundation has now classified it as such and added the article to a blacklist.
The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) is a self-regulated charitable body that polices online child pornography as well as racist and criminally obscene material. As soon as the Virgin Killer Wikipedia article was added to its blacklist, six British ISPs, Virgin Media, Be/O2/Telefonica, EasyNet/UK Online, PlusNet, Demon, and Opal restricted access to it.
The Register explains how “the ISPs are routing Wikipedia traffic through transparent proxies,” meaning multiple users are being tarred with the same ISP. As well as restricting access to this one article, this is also preventing millions of British users from editing articles on Wikipedia due to ban one, ban them all mentality.
Clearly, this issue needs addressing, because it’s completely unfair to ban everyone in an IP range from editing Wikipedia purely because one person may have done something wrong. But the bigger issue surrounds censorship in the UK, with question marks as to whether the Virgin Killer article should be off-limits in the first place.
No-one condones child pornography apart from pedophiles and weird freedom-for-all advocates, but it’s interesting to note that the album cover in question isn’t a problem in the U.S. thanks to it passing the Miller test. There was me thinking the UK was as free as the U.S. but that’s clearly not the case.