This article is not a commentary on the rights and wrongs of Internet censorship and the many faces of information control. This article is here to raise awareness of Britain’s state enforced censorship of UK Internet access and to help people work around Internet site blacklists.
The methods we can use to get around Internet censorship are shown at the bottom of this article.
The road to hell is paved with good intentions
The past two governments of the United Kingdom have worked hard to restrict access to websites that government ministers and campaign groups deem unfit for viewing in British society.
At first, banned websites were those that depicted and promoted specific crimes against children. The type of website deemed fit to ban now includes those that infringe copyright and those that promote extreme views against the Western world. Pages on both Wikipedia and Facebook have also been deliberately blocked to surfers within the UK at various times of the past few years.
Methods used to block access to undesirable websites from within the UK include:
- Filtering at the ISP level
- Word and phrase filtering by search engines
Other methods are probably used too.
ISP level filtering, aka network level filtering, is managed differently by individual ISPs. Technical details can be found elsewhere on the web.
Search engines have lists of search terms for which they return no results or for which they return a notice to advise those that use them that the search terms used have been blocked.
We can call this censorship, we can call it optional censorship, we can call it suppression or we can think of it as the progression of offline law into the virtual world. I consider the restriction of access to information and the control of communication between people to be the definition of censorship. This article will use the word censorship to describe the British government’s Internet firewall.
This article will probably get this site banned within the UK
Not all ISPs are blocking websites yet. So far BT, Sky and TalkTalk have applied blacklists. Virgin will begin censoring access to sites in January.
Blocked sites are those such as porn sites, sex education sites, proxy sites, sites about tobacco and sites about alcohol. Soon, any content government deems extremist or undesirable will be added to the Great Firewall of Britain too. Here is a more complete list of the type of sites on current ISP blacklists:
- Drugs, Alcohol and Tobacco
- File sharing sites and Media Streaming
- Pornography and Nudity
- Web forums and Social networking
- Suicide and Self-harm
- Weapons and violence
- Extremist and Terrorist
- Anorexia and Eating disorders
- Esoteric material
- Web-blocking circumvention tools
- Fashion and Beauty
- Sex education
- Search Engines
Web-blocking and circumvention tools include
- Proxy servers
- Some VPN services
- Tor browser download sites
The web-blocking service offered by UK ISPs is currently optional. UK web users can ‘opt-out’ of the censorship firewall. That is to say that Internet users in the UK are not being asked to opt-in to the site blocking service. This is known as on by default.
To be clear, some ISPs offer an opt-in service for existing customers and enforce an opt-out service for new customers.
It is known that Huawei, the Chinese company which filters TalkTalk’s Internet service, monitors surfer browsing habits whether or not users opt-in or opt-out of the blacklist service.
JournalXtra could soon be made inaccessible to UK residents. Any website that provides web filter circumvention advice is a target for censorship; ditto for any website that government and blacklist compilers consider to be dissenting of their moral sensitivities and their viewpoints. JX is about to explain how ISP level Internet filters can be bypassed so is a prime target for censorship.
Where do ISPs get their website blacklists from?
The blacklists of censored sites are compiled by groups, organizations and companies such as Netmums (a US group), the Internet Watch Foundation (an organization) and Huawei (a Chinese company).
Some sites are added to blacklists through political request and legal order, other sites are added by submission from Internet users, by submission from teams of people employed by the agencies that compile the lists, and by automatic submission from computer algorithms that search for specific content types.
How can we get around state censorship?
The easiest way around this major bug in British democracy is to use a tor browser, next easy option is to use a browser plugin, least easy options are VPNs.
Tor browsers provide virtually anonymous and unhindered web browsing. I recommend these because even the non computer literate can use them without a PhD in computing.
Download one or both of these now before it is too late. You can decide whether to use them later.
Browser plugins are easy to install and to use. Try any of these:
Stealthy uses proxy servers so may not work when proxies are blocked.
Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) work by funnelling (think of this as smuggling) traffic between two computers via a computer in the middle. The middle computer sits outside the boundaries of the restricted network (e.g an ISP’s censored network). The middle computer can access a censored site because it is not itself blocked.
For example, if you wanted to access example.com/blocked, you could access a computer at example.com/vpn which would access example.com/blocked on your behalf then would relay the data back to your computer.
VPN servers can be used to access sites blocked to computers outside of a firewall as well as be used to access computers blocked to access from within a firewall.
For example, if a video hosted in the US cannot be watched on computers outside of the US then a VPN using a US server as the middleman can be used to relay the blocked video data because the access request would appear to originate from within the US (where the VPN server is located).
VPN Services will not necessarily be accessible to UK internet users who are restricted by access blacklists. If the UK’s Internet is compulsorily filtered (censored) then VPN usage might at that bleak time require a government issued VPN access license.
What will not work to unblock website access?
Some people say that switching DNS servers will unblock access to ISP level filtered websites. This simply will not work.
Google provides public DNS servers. You can learn to use them here.
What can we do now?
This is not about gaining access to sites that promote harm to people or damage to property. This is about protecting access to information and protecting the continued evolution of society without government restriction and state sponsored social engineering.
Share this page with your social networks and friends. Print this page to read it later. Email this page to everyone you know. It is our duty to protect our freedoms and to inform others of the tools they can use to protect freedom too.
Most of all, at minimum, if you value your Internet freedom and desire continued and unrestricted access to information and communication, then please act now to protect your Internet access before it is too late.
More information about UK Internet censorship can be read at Wikipedia.