Here’s yet another tale of little grey men in little grey offices trying to censor the internet: author Mark Forsyth was in the British Library, and needed to access an online version of one of the Bard’s most famous plays; but the on site computer network denied him access because of its “violent content”! We’re talking about a play that is hundreds of years, is recognized as one of the greatest works of literature in the English language; a play that is routinely taught to 14 year olds – yet the British Library classified it as unsuitable and blocked it! Many young students who don’t want to bother reading the play now have a cast-iron excuse: they’re not allowed to read it!
The British Library has tried to shift the blame (they claim it was down to a newly installed wi-fi service from a third-party provider, who were probably doing what they were told to do), and the Library now say the play has been unblocked. All well and good – but how many other plays, novels, poems, etc have also been blocked? This will be revealed in a piece-meal manner as it’s revealed that one literary work after another has been blocked.
One security expert said the incident highlighted the “dysfunction” of internet filters.
Internet filters have recently come under increased scrutiny, after the government announced that pornography will be automatically blocked by UK internet providers, unless customers choose otherwise.
Digital rights activists raised concerns about the move, fearing that the lists of “banned” sites could be expanded to include pages that should be publicly available.
Prof Ross Anderson, a security expert at Cambridge University, told the BBC that internet filters were “pointless” and that it was “completely inappropriate” to have one in the British Library.
He added: “Everything that is legal should be available over the library’s wi-fi network. The only things they should block are the few dozen books against which there are court judgements in the UK.
“One of the functions of deposit libraries is to keep everything, including smut.”
The British Library defended its position, claiming it was trying to shield users from pornography and gambling websites. But I don’t see how banning literary classics or unfashionable political views will protect the children from smut and scratch-cards…
If you wanna do something, short of fire-bombing the British Library (an illegal act I would never suggest), you could always sign the Open Rights Group’s petition. If you’re one of the unbelievers, online petitions can have an effect. Honest! (So can fire-bombs, but they’re illegal yadda yadda hey!)
“Won’t somebody please think of the children?”