Disability Rights Website Blocked

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BT customers were unable to acess Black Triangle’s website for six months

British Telecom has been accused of blocking access to the website of the Black Triangle, a non-profit organisation run by volunteers, which campaigns forcefully for disability rights.

Update: As it turns out, the website was inaccessible due to a combination of hosting security features and server-side errors.

Black Triangle aims to provide a forum for disabled people and their carers to discuss issues of concern. However, for almost six months now the website has been allegedly blocked by BT, alongside extreme pornography and political extremism.

The only way for BT customers to access the website is through TOR or proxy servers. The group claims this has been extremely damaging to its campaigning and fundraising efforts.

BT has been completely unforthcoming with an answer as to why the website was blacklisted, Black Triangle spokesman John McArdle told TechWeekEurope. BT spokespeople were also unable to explain the apparent block, or discuss any reason why it might be blocked, when approached by TechWeekEurope.

Update:  We have received an updated statement from BT, which reads: “BT has never placed any block on this site. In fact, when the issue was raised we found it difficult to find any BT customer that could not access it. After significant discussion with the Black Triangle Campaign’s representative and extensive technical analysis we have as yet been unable to find any technical issue on the BT network preventing access to this site. We have asked Black Triangle for permission to speak its site hosts in Iceland to establish the cause of this issue.”

Update 2: It seems that the problem has been fixed. BT has contacted the hosting company in Iceland, and confirmed that it had put a number of security rules in place that prevented BT customers from accessing the website. A fault on the company’s server also contributed to the problem. Both of these issues are now resolved.

Although BT did not implement the block, the company went to great lengths to help Black Triangle to find the source of the problem.

Kick them when they are down

Black Triangle estimates that around 10,000 people a month could be denied access to articles on its website due to the website block. The organisation has contacted the ISP several times, but at the time of this article being published, had received no definite explanation.

Taking its name from the badge that was used in Nazi concentration camps to mark prisoners as “work-shy”, Black Triangle is campaigning against the government use of “Work Capability Assessments”, operated by Atos Healthcare.

Atos is infamous for taking down websites that it considers to be damaging to the company’s reputation, which has led the group to believe Atos may be involved in the blocking. Black Triangle had previously moved its servers to Iceland to insulate itself from potential corporate ‘cease and desist’ threats to ISPs.

As a grassroots campaign mainly made up of disabled people, Black Triangle relies on donations through the website to fund its activities. The charity estimates that the blockage may be costing its campaign anything up to £500 a month.

“It couldn’t be more damaging to our campaign in a ‘free and democratic society’”, commented McArdle.

When TechWeekEurope contacted the BT press office, it was unable to confirm whether the website was blacklisted, nor uncover any reason why it might be blocked.

“BT has spoken to the website’s IT team several times today and they are aware that we’re investigating the problems they are experiencing. We’re looking into the issue and hope to provide them with an update as soon as possible,” BT told us.

“If these reports are true, then it’s yet another, albeit especially disturbing, example of why website blocking is such a bad idea,” commented Peter Bradwell, a spokesman for the Open Rights Group.

“Through mistakes or abuse, the wrong content ends up being blocked. And it’s incredibly hard for people to find out why their site is blocked and what to do about it. That can have very real and very damaging consequences for those involved, especially when it is a small group like this trying to build support for its ideas and campaigns.”

“Some politicians seem to think widespread website filtering is an easy, pain free solution to difficult social problems. But it’s not. It strikes a blow to the heart of the Internet as a powerful tool for freedom of expression and innovation,” concluded Bradwell.

Open Rights Group has recently criticized the widespread over-blocking of mobile Internet in the UK, justified by the desire to protect children from harmful content.

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