Access to this blog may soon be restricted. The UK government is pushing legislation through parliament which censors what they call ‘esoteric material.’ The proposal would force ISPs to block certain websites using an automatic filter. To regain access to this material you would have to opt out of the filters – easy enough to do at home, less so when using public access wi-fi.
How has this come about?
The proposals are part of what has been called a ‘pornwall’: to stop children getting access to pornography online. The bulk of the debate has centred around this highly emotive topic, and while most agree something needs to be done about the increasingly violent porn available free online, they also agree that the proposed ISP filters won’t work.
But hang on, what has ‘esoteric material’ got to do with pornography? It seems the UK government are using the hysterical distraction of porn to push through filters on other areas. The Open Rights Group discovered 9 other categories under these proposals:
- Violent material
- Extremist and terrorist related content
- Anorexia and eating disorder websites
- Suicide related websites
- Web forums
- Esoteric material
- Web blocking circumvention tools
It’s clear from this list that any kind of filter wouldn’t work effectively. Using keywords and algorithms and the broadest of brushes, would the filters censor websites offering support and guidance for people suffering from anorexia, for example. Would it filter out the Samaritans? How would it deal with Twitter and Facebook which are both awash with esoteric material? Would it block Amazon for selling esoteric books?
Esoteric means intended for or likely to be understood by a small number of people with specialised knowledge or interest. Spiritual groups have recognised this as censorship of their activities, but it could be applied to almost anything. Something can be defined as esoteric if it does not form part of the mainstream. Using this legislation the UK government could censor and block any individual or website considered to be special interest or against the mainstream.
This is an attempt to control how people think.
The fact that these controls are being sneaked in under the guise of filtering porn sites makes it all the more suspicious. This is the thin end of the wedge. Limiting access to information and stopping individuals from freely exchanging ideas is the quickest way to control what and how people think. In fact, you could argue that the sharing of ‘esoteric’ information is precisely what the internet is so good at. It helps people to connect and share ideas, so any kind of censorship should be seen as disturbing.
Censorship is Already Here
If you think this can’t happen, think again. Certain sites are already blocked by Orange in the UK. As Jaime Tanna describes, his own website was blocked in a café in London because it mentions ‘spiritual healing.’ The access denied message told him it was blocked because it was classified under ‘Alternative Spirituality/Belief’. Why are spiritual sites being blocked? What is the real message here?
“As nightfall does not come all at once, neither does oppression. In both instances, there is a twilight where everything remains seemingly unchanged. And it is in such twilight that we all must be most aware of change in the air – however slight – lest we become unwitting victims of the darkness.” – Justice William O Douglas
This infographic summarises the basic details of the proposed legislation, and it doesn’t just affect the UK. Other countries are already operating similar filters or will follow the UK in doing so. For more information and to sign the petition against internet censorship visit Change.org