We have been hearing a lot about the "Great Firewall of David Cameron", a hastily rushed-through piece of UK legislation requiring British internet service providers to introduce filters that will supposedly prevent impressionable under-18s from viewing pornographic websites. It was widely predicted by IT pundits that this would lead to a disastrous muddle of unintended consequences. Sure enough, when O2 introduced a "website status checker" page that reports what is and isn't blocked by that particular ISP (using unspecified and unaccountable third-party services to which other UK providers presumably subscribe), we found that the notoriously filthy SF Encyclopedia is not, under the default "Parental Control" option, considered fit for children. Here's a screen capture:
Was this block imposed because the SFE has an entry for Sex? Is it perhaps based on a Prediction – after the fashion of Minority Report – that we plan some day to include a suitably dispassionate entry on science-fictional Pornography? Sheer incompetence is a likelier answer. It is quite difficult to find a major British website that isn't blocked by default. Checking the most ridiculous possibilities in December 2013, we found that the central UK government site for tax and VAT (hmrc.gov.uk) is blocked as a presumably seething nexus of online porn. Most bookshop sites are blocked for both browsing and shopping purposes, with the notable exception of Amazon.co.uk, where the "Parental Controls" allow under-18s to browse if not buy. Why should some book dealers be more equal than others? It is suggested that Amazon.co.uk simply has more and scarier lawers that Waterstones or the various small presses.
Meanwhile, further blocked sites currently include our own publisher's SF Gateway and Orion.co.uk. Even John Clute's austere home page and David Langford's innocuous Ansible have received the black spot. Unblocked websites remain hard to find – check out the UK newspapers! – but our diligent researchers have traced one devoted to the works of Beatrix Potter.
21 December 2013