Pornography and its Frustrations

For those who have never worked with “basic” versions of web-filtering software, let me describe typical frustrations.

Researching the subject of malicious communications? Found what looks like a helpful search return via google? *CLICK*…

Access Blocked

Access to the requested web page (http://www.helpfullookingcommentary.com/) has been blocked as it is categorised as PROFANITY, which is considered unsuitable for access using this equipment. If you have any queries, please contact your system administrator

 Researching defamation? Found what looks like a helpful search return via google? *CLICK*…

Access Blocked

Access to the requested web page (http://www.interestinganalysis.com/) has been blocked as it is categorised as GAMBLING, which is considered unsuitable for access using this equipment. If you have any queries, please contact your system administrator

Doing some local history research on Scunthorpe? Found what looks like a helpful search return via google? *CLICK*…

Access Blocked

Access to the requested web page (http://www.scunthorpematters.com/) has been blocked as it is categorised as PORNOGRAPHY, which is considered unsuitable for access using this equipment. If you have any queries, please contact your system administrator

Each of these failed hits will be logged by some sysadmins as “attempt to access PROFANITY/GAMBLING/PORNOGRAPHY”. 

I suggest people bear this in mind when reading the numerous delighted shocked commentators who have picked up on the Huffington Post story which says that a Freedom of Information request apparently revealed that

MPs, Lords and parliamentary staff have been trying to access porn websites potentially thousands of times, official figures reveal.

The story goes on to say that users of the parliamentary network, over a period of one year

have repeatedly attempted to access websites classed on Parliament’s network as pornographic [emphasis added]

So, they haven’t tried to access pornography; they’ve tried to access sites that web-filtering software classes as pornography. A further clue to the fact that this outrageous story of parliamentary loucheness might not be as it’s being presented is the fact that in October 2012 there were 3391 “attempts”, in the following month there were 114,844 and in the month after that there were 6918. Either November that year coincided with rampant horniness on the part of politicians and their staff, or there’s another reason for the spike.

I suspect some new definitions were added to the software, which drastically increased the “false positive” hits, and these crappy new definitions were tweaked for the following months.

In fact, as I drafted this post Sky News’ Roddy Mansfield, and the Guardian’s James Ball have pointed out on twitter that that November 2012 spike coincided with intense political and media interest in the topic of sexual offences, following as the scandal involving Jimmy Savile broke. This is very plausible, and suggests that, far from users of parliamentary systems shirking their responsibilities by browsing for smut, they were actually trying – apparently unsuccessfully, and probably with no small frustration – to find out more about a serious and current news item.

But that makes for a dull story.

UPDATE:

As several people have pointed out, if this is a case of poor filtering, it provides a nice lesson in irony for those who propose ISP filtering as some sort of solution to the alleged “corroding” influence of online pornography.

3 Comments

Filed under Freedom of Information, journalism, parliament

3 responses to “Pornography and its Frustrations

  1. Michael Quick

    oh! who are naughty boys then?

  2. Daniel Olive

    It’s actually quite a big deal if MPs and Peers are unable to find information about issues of public concern. I would be interested to know if either house has ever adopted a resolution waiving privilege.

  3. Pingback: Understanding the Data | Digitally Focused

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