Random Notes

UK Censors Wikipedia

Posted by mfluch on December 7, 2008

Imagine a country where there exists a authority which maintains a list of addresses of internet pages which are not suitable for the public to see. Imagine that most of the internet service providers of this country use this list to block access to the addresses on this blacklist. Imagine that the blocking is done secretly without telling that is happens. Imagine that whenever a address is blocked you will get the message “404 Not Found” and you will unlikely know for sure whether this page doesn’t exist or is not accessible because it is on this secret block list.

Imagine web pages could suddenly disappear silently from your vision if some person ads its address to the block list. Imagine some people in the state want information on the net to vanish in the void … and the technical possibility for this exists.

Does this sounds scary?

Does the Ministry of Truth come to your mind? Do you think of China?

Virgin Killers CensoredIt is the United Kingdom I am thinking of, and partially the above scenario is happening just right now. The organisation I think about is the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), the incidence in question this time is a page on Wikipedia. The page in question is the album Virgin Killer by the German band Scorpions. It shows amongst other thing the controversal cover picture of the initial release in the year 1976. The image on the right shows how this page looked to me while surfing from home. The original page is still there, people from UK might not see it (without some small and very simple modifications to their internet settings), if you are outside the UK you will probably have not the slightest problem to access the page.

Virgin Killers UncensoredStill, it is no problem to access Wikipedia through a secure channel provided by Wikimedia foundation. On the right a screen shot of the page how it is accessible using the link https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Virgin_killer.

Sure, the image in question is debateable and caused and again causes a lot of controverse discusions. And I myself could not care less if the people editing Wikipedia decide to have it on their site or not.

But what is scary is the fact that in a democratic state an instituition is established which gives a theoretical possibility to secretly censor anything they would like. It might still sound like fiction, but where there is a posibility desire will grow and history has shown that posibilities will be deployed.

More detailed information about the incidence can be found here on Wikinews, in this article on The Register and in this blog entry on ZDNet. And now the story is also on BBC.

Now after the big protest IWF as reivsed their decision about the image in question:

“However, the IWF Board has today (9 December 2008) considered these findings and the contextual issues involved in this specific case and, in light of the length of time the image has existed and its wide availability, the decision has been taken to remove this webpage from our list.” (source)

Child pornography is a very bad and sad thing and I myself do not support it in any way! Still I firmly belive that secret censoring system as the IWF blocklist is something a demorcatic state should not have. Ever! To much is at stake here and one always should be aware of the beginning.

Now the above incidence was the first one which caused publicity. But when will the day come that we have to read Wikipedia (and other places in the internet) using encrypted connections to access information freely?


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