Posted on Jun 16, 2017 by Rick Falkvinge

Britain’s ISPs already censor political opinions they just randomly happen to disagree with

British Internet providers already censor political opinions they don’t like. Specifically, they censor this blog by default, which is trivial to verify, thanks to Open Rights Group. This blog isn’t a random corporate blog; it builds political opinion in favor of net liberty and net neutrality, and frequently against the old telco dinosaurs. Therefore, it’s a huge red flag when those same dinosaurs prevent people from accessing it at all.




As Caleb Chen has written here before, some of Britain’s ISPs have decided to censor this entire VPN service off the visible Internet for their customers: people who try to access Private Internet Access are essentially told that the page doesn’t exist, is censored, is illegal, or is otherwise shady. That’s outrageous in itself – the notion that an ISP can take itself the right to determine which other businesses, well, exist. It’s especially concerning when the blocked services are absolutely vital for whistleblowing and other core democratic safeguards.

Sky and O2 in Britain don’t let people read political opinion pieces, such as pieces in favor of net neutrality, on this blog. Above the result of a political piece, courtesy of a block check service made by our friends at Open Rights Group.

But there’s more to it. Private Internet Access is also running this very blog, which promotes various liberty aspects. We’re not just a random VPN company, we happen to be passionate activists who run a VPN company as a way to create sustainable liberty. This is not about the money. This is about liberty, anonymity, privacy, and human rights to us. Therefore, you could argue that the entire company is political – in the good sense – but at the very least, no matter how you turn it, this blog certainly is. This is where we argue for anonymity, where we report on political events, and where we talk to our brothers and sisters on the barricades.

Therefore, it is undeniably the case that the UK now has default-on censorship for political opinions. That’s not particularly flattering.

But there’s more to this. There are two important twists to this story.

The first twist to this story is that this is a site and a blog heavily in favor of net neutrality, something that telco-luggage ISPs are vehemently against in order to protect their obsolete copperline luggage. Therefore, it’s in their business interest to censor this particular site.

So while it can absolutely be argued that it just “happens” to be opinions these telcos disagree with that get “accidentally” censored as an unfortunate side effect of censoring an entire VPN company, it’s undeniably the case that a VPN company will, one way or another, always push these political values, and so it should be foreseeable. It’s also a very convenient coincidence that the default censorship just happens to censor out opinions that go against the business interest of those actually doing the censoring. To be frank, even if it’s accidental and unintended, it leaves a very bad taste.

The second twist is that if the net neutrality we argue in favor of were abolished, we would see more of this behavior openly – your telco-luggage ISP selecting your opinions for you, without even trying to say it’s accidental. It would be portrayed as “family friendly”, “ethical”, or some other whitewashing.

If net neutrality were abolished, we’d see exactly this, and much more of this – your ISP essentially being free to serve you only that part of reality that they agreed with, and let you think opposing viewpoints did not exist. The notion that it already exists at all is sickening. The notion that a legalization of this is one political decision away is frightening.

Privacy remains your own responsibility.

About Rick Falkvinge

Rick is Head of Privacy at Private Internet Access. He is also the founder of the first Pirate Party and is a political evangelist, traveling around Europe and the world to talk and write about ideas of a sensible information policy. Additionally, he has a tech entrepreneur background and loves good whisky and fast motorcycles.


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6 Comments

  1. Arthur Westminister

    “Britain’s ISPs already censor political opinions they just randomly happen to disagree with” you claim, then you cite a mere two out of however many British ISPs there are and you present zero evidence to support your claim that either Sky or O2 have deliberately chosen to block access to this site. In the comment on your tweet linking to this post someone says this the site can be accessed from both those ISPs simply by disabling filtering. Not very effective censorship is it if customers can simply tick a box then access the site.

    You even provide the almost certainly true argument that undermines your claim, that the blocking of your site is “accidental and unintended”. This site is probably on some carelessly constructed list on to which all sorts of sites were put by people who barely even looked at the content of the site. Sure that’s bad, but it’s a very different “ISPs are censoring me”.

    This site isn’t blocked by my British ISP.

    4 months ago
    Reply
    1. Falkvinge

      Censorship is still censorship, whether you get on the list of censored opinions accidentally or deliberately. The statement is true.

      That the censorship can be disabled — after identifying — is irrelevant for this fact.

      4 months ago
      Reply
  2. Lewis Baker

    Again, your site is not blocked because they don’t like your political opinion, your site is blocked only when adult content filter is turned on because you’re a VPN provider and VPNs bypass content filtering. No one from UK ISPs is waging a political war against PIA and it’s simply ludicrous to claim that they are, spin this blog off as a separate entity instead of running it from the same domain as your VPN service and I bet your political opinions won’t be “censored” then.

    4 months ago
    Reply
    1. Falkvinge

      So, again, you’re saying that in order to evade the censorship, we only need to do X, Y, and Z.

      Which, again, corroborates the piece’s central point: Britain now has default-on censorship for political pieces.

      The reason for the censorship (not “blocking”, not “content filtering”: call a spade a spade) is irrelevant in this case, when we’re making the observation that it is on by default, and that it is hitting political opinion pieces.

      4 months ago
      Reply
      1. Lewis Baker

        You’re writing political pieces on a VPN provider website, your “censorship” is a result of poor placement of your political pieces not a political witch hunt, that’s like saying if I post a political video to pornhub then I’m being censored for my political opinions because pornhub is blocked by the default-on filtering …

        4 months ago
        Reply
  3. Mark Rich

    Trying to use PIA in Starbucks in UK often is blocked. Impossible to browse with PIA.
    Switched to another café now which doesn’t block your service.

    4 months ago
    Reply