UK Prime Minister David Cameron: Stop the unnecessary censorship of "esoteric" websites and web forums!
This petition had 47,146 supporters
Please read this and sign the petition against unnecessary "blanket" web filters that look set to block esoteric websites and web forums here in the UK, according to information obtained by the Open Rights Group.
THE UK IS ABOUT TO BE CENSORED BEYOND WHAT IS BEING SPOKEN ABOUT OPENLY IN THE PRESS. YOU CAN HELP STOP THIS.
The Prime Minister recently announced the move to introduce legislation that will force ISPs to create default filters when people sign up for internet services. This is being touted as a move to stop pornographic and extremist material from getting through to end users, including vulnerable children.
Yet, what is extremely worrying, and not yet widely known, is that the Prime Minister's internet filters will be about more than just hardcore pornography.
Open Rights Group, which campaigns for digital freedoms, has had the opportunity to speak to some of the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) that will be constructing Cameron's content filters, discovering that a host of other categories will be on the block list, including "esoteric material" and "web forums".
This should ring alarm bells for most of us! How can "esoteric material" and "web forums" be grouped with pornography and extremist sites?
These top-level filters will be most likely be linked to a list of keywords - made by the government, of course - and any websites that have any of these keywords will be blocked/banned.
According to Open Rights Group, this list will be created behind closed doors with NO appeal mechanism.
Websites that promote “esoteric practices” whether directly or indirectly, have already been blocked on pay-as-you-go Orange phones.
Users, including myself, have had access denied to alternative belief/spirituality websites whilst using wifi hotspots in public places.
Who will determine what the word "esoteric" means? This is the first question to ask ourselves.
Will websites that mention "spiritual healing" and "reiki" be blocked by default? Will websites that have "pagan" overtones - those which use words like "summer solstice" or "tarot" or "wiccan" - be blocked?
Would the category of eating "raw foods" (there is a big "raw foods" health movement in the USA, for example) be classed as cult-like or "esoteric" material, either now or in the future, and blocked?
These are valid concerns that should not be casually brushed aside. It is painfully obvious that the word "esoteric" is a broad catch-all term/category that is ripe for misuse by our government.
The second question to ask ourselves is why is the word "esoteric" such a problem?
Angela Pritchard, author and researcher into the universal nature of spirituality and consciousness, and co-author of two books on ancient sacred mysteries, says that, "'Esoteric material' which implies all manner of spiritual knowledge and practice, has been lumped in with the worst of human behaviour in this filter—forming one of 9 categories, which includes pornography, violence, and suicide related websites."
Whilst Angela agrees with the former Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre boss Jim Gamble, who told BBC Radio that it was important to 'get to the root cause' of illegal pornography, she points out that "it is important to get to the root cause of why 'esoteric material' became part of this filter, who was responsible for adding it, what their religious or non-religious affiliations are, and why it has not been addressed publicly by David Cameron? This appears to have been done as a very shady back-door deal indeed between the UK government and large ISP companies."
And even if you don't care much for esoteric, spiritually-based websites, wouldn't you be enormously frustrated if a genuine, helpful online forum that you wanted to visit was blocked, especially if that forum had key advice that could help save a life? Many web forums give key information on sexual health matters, abuse, addiction and so forth.
What if you unchecked the box to opt out of filtering defaults and still couldn't get through to a legitimate site you wanted to visit? Would you be bothered to even follow up with your ISP, especially if you were held in a rather long phone queue? How frustrating!
As a business owner in East Dulwich, South East London, I had a taste of this draconian filtering mechanism two years ago. I went to my local Caffe Nero to have a coffee and catch up on some business administration.
Together with my wife, we run a holistic business which also mentions "Spiritual Healing" amongst other key services such as Reiki, Reflexology, Yoga and Indian Head Massage. I was stunned to find that I could not access my own website as it was blocked. The message on the screen told me it was classified under "Alternative Spirituality/Belief", and access was denied through their web filtering system called "Blue Coat".
I was frustrated, not only because I couldn't access my own website, but because others were also being blocked from visiting a website which did not harm anyone. I eventually managed to resolve the issue but it took time and energy to do so.
Christos, from Greece, had a similar experience five years ago when he went with some friends to MacDonald’s in Camberwell, London in 2008. He says the following:
"We had our laptops with us. When we tried to visit one of the websites that at that time was offering free online courses.... we received the message ”alternative spirituality” and we weren’t able to access it. We were puzzled at the time and surprised. I had just arrived in London and such an attitude did not seem one of a developed country at all."
Personally, I see nothing wrong with seeking to empower others through spirituality, and the ability to respect and honour all people everywhere. Do you?
Mindfulness and spirituality are big buzz words right now, and surely fall into the category of "estoteric".
Wall Street Journal say that top companies are employing spirituality in their vision, so why does Cameron have a problem with it?
“Other companies in the mainstream using Mindfulness include Apple, AstraZeneca, Comcast, Deutsche Bank, Google, Heinz, Hughes, McKinsey, Nortel Networks, Proctor & Gamble, Raytheon, Texas Instruments, Unilever, and Yahoo. They cannot all be wrong, surely?” Wall Street Journal
We can all understand why the government, and parents all over the world, would want to block content that degrades both men and women, and causes hatred in any way - websites such as pornographic websites, or zealous religious bigotry, but to block content that seeks to uplift and inspire others, what kind of message is that giving? That does not make sense to me.
Public figure websites such as the Dalai Lama, Deepak Chopra, and Neale Donald Walsch would almost certainly fall into this category of "esoteric" and "alternative spirituality/belief." The British Society of Dowsers and The London School of Psychic Studies would probably fall into the category of esoteric, and so would many other smaller, well-meaning websites.
I do not want to live in a world where website material that is inspiring and uplifting is banned, whether intentionally, or as the result of passing laws that make access impossible.
I also do not wish to see "esoteric material" or "alternative belief/spirituality" lumped in with pornography and extreme hate. That is a false and most disturbing association, and must be rectified immediately.
Many uninformed people will start to view "esotericism" and "alternative belief/spirituality" as material that is taboo, and will certainly wish to avoid the stigma of being associated with it.
Dara from Sydney in Australia says, "I think the thing that I find the most disturbing though, is looking down the road to the long-term implications. If this legislation passes in the UK, and then other parts of the world, then that means the power exists for any government, or many of them, to completely shut down a chunk of humanity’s access to spiritual material online. And if the power exists, then someday, someone is likely going to use it, to its full extent. That’s why it’s being put in place now, hidden amidst the other issues. The leap from people being completely banned from sharing, viewing, and publishing esoteric material online, to people being banned from sharing and practicing alternative spirituality in real life is not very big. It could happen so easily once the precedent is set."
This issue of default filtering is especially important for us to consider here in the UK, but it really will affect many other people who don't live here.
What if a person travels to the UK for holiday or business, and then can't access websites that they normally have access to, just because David Cameron and his government say so?
The Open Rights Group says that this matter could be easily avoided by simply having an 'active choice' as the ISPs originally suggested with no preset defaults, forcing customers to specify whether they want filters, and what filters exactly.
Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, has repeatedly stated his opposition to the current plans by the UK government to impose "opt-in" web censorship, and he plans to continue advocating against these laws.
Whether "opt-in" or "opt-out" internet censorship happens or not, is up to us.
Whatever happens next, it is my belief, and I hope it is yours too, that "esoteric material" should not be grouped with "pornography" and "extremist" material. Useful "web forums" should also not be blocked, in my opinion.
Please get involved, and help spread the word that this is an important matter, at a crucial juncture in humanity's history.
Let's stand together with one unanmious voice for our right to access content that is helpful and informative. We cannot have this hugely important issue brushed under the carpet under such a pretext.
Please sign, and share with everyone you know.
Prime Minister David Cameron, we are asking you to stop the unnecessary censorship of helpful, genuine, well-meaning "esoteric" websites and web forums, amongst others, so that you do not impinge on the rights of law abiding citizens to free access of information, and to conduct their affairs.
We also ask for clear, transparent communication on this matter, and a promise that ensures that genuine websites and associated businesses will not be harmed by a myopic viewpoint on what is "acceptable content".
Who wants to be dictated to by a Nanny State? I don't.
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