September 12, 2005

Jonathan Zittrain's Censorware Adventure

Jonathan Zittrain is a Harvard Law Professor. As relayed by

[He] is at a "cybersafety" conference in the UK this week, where he ran into some breath-taking content blocking. He writes

. . . I searched for the "virtual child pornography case," to find Ashcroft v. Free Speech Coalition. What I got instead was not only a block page, but a note that the IT manager would be investigating whether the "attempted access to illegal material" was intentional or unintentional.

This is very interesting (and worth my echoing) for a non-obvious reason. The details indicate that the keywords in the search triggered the censorware ban (it's obvious why :-)). And what came up was a pretty standard block page, if more verbose than just-the-blacklists-slam:

The webpage you have tried to download has been blocked. This page may pose a threat to network security, or contain offensive, pornographic, illegal or other inappropriate material. Attempted access to blocked webpages is logged and in cases of intentional access computers and users will be traced.

If you inadvertently attempted to access the unauthorised content, no action will be taken.

Intentional access to websites containing offensive, pornographic, illegal or other inappropriate material is in breach of School and University regulations and may lead to suspension of network access and disciplinary action. Browsing or downloading files from websites containing illegal material may lead to criminal prosecution. If you believe the website should not be blocked please contact the Network Manager, Said Business School.

It's not a personal note. But, if a big-time Berkman Center CyberLawProf had the impression, even momentarily, that he might be investigated for illegal access (and it was reported that way, see TechDirt) - imagine what students and library users think! Such intimidation disproves the idea that it's trivial for people to merely ask to have censorware turned off (when they can).

[Disclaimers: I'm acquainted with Jonathan Zittrain, but have no agenda or any project connection in posting this. And no "advice", please. ]

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in censorware | on September 12, 2005 11:51 PM (Infothought permalink)
Seth Finkelstein's Infothought blog (Wikipedia, Google, censorware, and an inside view of net-politics) - Syndicate site (subscribe, RSS)

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Since you eschew advice, all one can offer, in that case, is consent. Sadly, there are no Allan Sherman links to consent. I know this, having consulted with the powers that be at Camp Granada.

Posted by: Dean Landsman at September 15, 2005 02:18 PM