UK Parliament Mail - The Ministry Of Silly Messages

An anticensorware investigation by Seth Finkelstein

Abstract: This report examines messages being rejected by a mail system in use by the UK parliament.

Why Censorware Doesn't Work

Liberal Democrat MP Sir Archy Kirkwood, who represents the House of Commons Commission, said last week that only e-mails with a high proportion of the most offensive obscenities were automatically blocked.

-- BBC - E-mail vetting blocks MPs' sex debate

The UK Parliament has implemented a message-scanning system.

According to John Leyden at The Register , it's based on Clearswift MAILSweeper.

That appears likely, and I believe I've reverse-engineered some of the settings in use in the UK Parliament.

Testing was done by sending messages to fictitious addresses at . If the message passed the scanner, it would be bounced as "Undeliverable". But if the message was blocked, a notification would be returned concerning "inappropriate content".

As of this writing (February 6 2003), the system seems to be that a message will be blocked if it receives six (6) points or more, with the following words having values:

This list is not exhaustive. Matching doesn't depend on upper-case or lower-case. However, when a single word is listed, matching does not apply to substrings. That is, "Scunthorpe" is fine - and so, for that matter, is "buttfuck". But not "screw-up" (hyphens are considered word-separators). Each word counts only once per message. So any of the following will get a message blocked:

"Mr. Sexton graduated magna cum laude from college."

"Censorware is not fond of pussy-cats and tit-willows."

"What a cock-up. It's a media orgy."

"Tell that media-whore to butt-out!"

"Look at the report on "

"The Ass. is involved in an orgy of recriminations."

"I have given suck, and know how tender 'tis to love the babe that milks me ...
But screw your courage to the sticking-place, And we'll not fail."

Version 1.01 Feb 7 2003

Note coverage on: NTK , Cyber-Rights & Cyber-Liberties (UK) , The Inquirer

General coverage:
The Register - Plaid up in arms as Commons spam filter bans Welsh
The Register - MPs barred from reading their own emails
BBC - E-mail vetting blocks MPs' sex debate
BBC - Software blocks MPs' Welsh e-mail

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