The British National Party’s website is for over-18s only on some mobile networks, something the Open Rights Group has taken umbrage with
The Open Rights Group (ORG) has had a slew of fresh reports of mobile operators blocking seemingly innocuous websites by default, as well as political extremist sites such as that of the BNP.
The ORG and the LSE Media Policy Project released a mobile Internet censorship report on Monday, revealing that political commentaries, personal blogs, restaurants’ sites and community websites were among those blocked by porn filters. Sites such as Shelfappeal.com, a blog which features items that can be placed on a shelf, were blocked by such filters. A number of UK mobile operators enforce these by default and require a user to remove protections.
Since Monday, 19 more reports of “incorrectly” blocked websites have been sent to the ORG’s Blocked.org.uk site. This included the website of extreme right party the BNP. O2 was blocking it because it was considered a “hate site”, according to the ORG.
“At the very least, ISPs need to be absolutely clear that under child protection filters, political content may be blocked under their filters,” the internet freedom campaigner said.
“Whatever you think about the BNP’s politics, political speech is at the core of the activities protected by freedom of expression rights. So long as they remain within the law, political parties’ websites should never be blocked by ISPs.”
TechWeekEurope asked O2 users whether they were being blocked from going on the BNP site. One user said they were being directed to a Bango.net block, saying the website was restricted to over-18s. Another was able to access the site without issue.
Bango hosts and operates the mobile web interface to O2’s age verification system. “They’re experts in this space, with many years of experience working with both mobile operators and content providers worldwide,” O2 says of Bango in its FAQ on age verification.
Blocked or not?
ORG said the BNP’s site was also being blocked on T-Mobile, Vodafone and Orange. TechWeekEurope was able to run the BNP site without any trouble over Orange and T-Mobile, but it was blocked on Vodafone. Over GiffGaff, which uses the O2 network, TechWeekEurope could also access the site without issue.
Over Vodafone, the site was blocked by default, asking the user to unlock protections if they are over 18. The ORG admitted it had not “comprehensively tested these reports across all networks yet.”
An O2 spokesperson said not all of the BNP site was blocked, just a particular part of it. The spokesperson did not specify which part.
It appears BNP supporters noted the block earlier this year. The BNP Debate blog noted the under-18 ban in January. “Spanish owned UK mobile phone operator O2 has put the BNP website alongside the likes of Youporn, Xhampster & X Tube!” the blog read.
Other O2 customers have previously expressed dismay at being directed to Bango when visiting certain sites.
The ORG said the publicity from the campaign this week had led to an upturn in reports of overblocking. Other blocked sites included ethicalhacker.net and glam.co.uk.
“As with all the reports we receive, we aren’t suggesting all are categorically suitable for all young people,” the ORG said in a blog post. “But for many of the sites, mobile networks are making decisions that should best be made by parents – in discussion with their children – about the scope of content that young people may have blocked on their phones.”
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