To be, or not to be, blocked, that is the question

Phil Kalina for Stan Hywet Hall & GardensIn the latest development of over-zealous internet filtering, the British Library has blocked access to Shakespeare’s Hamlet because of its “violent content”.

The block was discovered by author Mark Forsyth, who attempted to check a line from the play over the library’s wi-fi network.

We have repeatedly warned that there is a fundamental issue with filtering legal content based on a subjective moral view, often made by a third party and not the person operating the network. Does the British Library really think that the content of Hamlet is so violent to justify access being blocked to one of the most famous plays of all time?

When parents worry about what their children might see over public wi-fi, does the British library think that the most pressing issue is if they are reading English literature?

Overblocking is an inevitable consequence of pursuing greater filtering of internet access and as the scope of content filtered expands, so will the collateral damage to legal content. Pusuit of “clean” or “safe” public wi-fi is an illusion, leading to parents having a false sense of security and expecting technology to fill the gap where parenting should be. Equally, a quick search for “how to get around my school’s Facebook block” illustrates how when faced with blocking, people who want to access content don’t have a particularly hard time circumventing blocks.

Furthermore, if a business is blocked, who will hold the legal liability for the loss of earnings? The ISP? The third party providing their filtering software? The Government?

According to the British Library it wanted to protect children visiting the building from content “such as pornography and gambling websites”. On any sane reading, Hamlet definitely does not fall into either of those categories, but still it came to be blocked.

We assume the Library will be removing any text that includes descriptions of war from its shelves, to protect the children.

While the method of internet filtering may have recieved a warm reception from various quarters, this incident acutely highlights the madness that lies ahead.