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Date: 2001-05-18

GILC gegen den Filter/wahn

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Wenn man gefiltertes Internet kriegt, ohne gefiltertes Internet
zu wollen, ist es Zeit, sich zu wehren. Das haben 25
Gruppen - darunter quintessenz und VIBE aus AT - der
Global Internet Liberty Campaign einmal getan.

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A group of 25 Internet civil liberties organizations, including
the American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Frontier
Foundation, and other members of and,
released a co-signed statement today against the practice of
Internet Service Provider "stealth blocking". We first posted
to our press list about this back in December, when we found
out that AboveNet, a large backbone provider that apparently
routes about 2% of hits on any given Web site, was blocking
their downstream customers from viewing the Peacefire site.
TeleGlobe, a backbone provider that links many European
ISP's to the American Internet infrastructure, is also still
blocking their downstream users from viewing

Of course, we're already blocked by all the major blocking
programs, since the top link on our site is "How to disable
your blocking software". The twist was that in this case, the
customers downstream from AboveNet and TeleGlobe didn't
sign up for "filtered Internet access" -- the vast majority
thought they were getting full access to the Internet, and
when they tried to view our site, the browser would just give
an error saying "site not responding", even though it was
actually AboveNet or TeleGlobe blocking it. Ironically, it
turned out that AboveNet and TeleGlobe weren't even
targeting us, but were participating in a boycott of our ISP
organized by an "anti-spam" group called the Mail Abuse
Prevention System (MAPS), which targeted our ISP because
of the content of some other sites hosted there. (It *was* an
issue of content -- mostly sites like selling
email software that MAPS believed could be abused by
spammers -- it was not because any site hosted by our ISP
was spamming or being advertised in spam.)

Slashdot ran a story last December about the AboveNet
situation, and AboveNet immediately stopped almost all
blocking of Web sites (not entirely -- AboveNet still blocks
their users from viewing, which is
explained rather bluntly on the ORBS site at But the TeleGlobe
blocking is still in effect. We're starting to hear from more
and more European users who realize that our site is not
down and that TeleGlobe is actually blocking it.


425 649 9024

The undersigned members of the Global Internet Liberty
Campaign (GILC) and the Internet Free Expression Alliance
(IFEA), in keeping with the principle that end users should
decide what to view and with whom to communicate, object
to the practice of Internet Service Provider "stealth blocking."
This concerns ISPs that do not bill themselves as filtered
service providers but intentionally block their customers from
accessing certain Web sites or sending mail to users at
certain other ISPs. "Stealth" blocking is done undetectably,
so users only see a browser error saying that a Web site is
down or an email error saying that the destination mail server
could not be reached. Over 99% of end users never discover
that any intentional blocking is being done. and have both fallen victim to "stealth
blocking" by their upstream provider, AboveNet, which
blocked IFEA and GILC from sending mail to one of their
member organizations between August and December 2000.
During that period, AboveNet's downstream users were also
blocked from viewing that member organization's Web site.
The member group's hosting provider was blocked after
becoming the target of a boycott by AboveNet and several
other providers, due to the content and ownership of other,
unrelated sites hosted by the same provider. After this
practice was discovered and publicized in December, and
users confirmed it was not a hoax, AboveNet abruptly halted
almost all "stealth blocking" being done on its systems but
did not issue any statement on the issue or say whether the
practice would be reinstated.

The undersigned IFEA and GILC members are requesting a
written clarification from AboveNet as to their policy of
blocking customers from accessing Web sites based on their
content. The members urge AboveNet to commit to not
reinstate their "stealth blocking" policy in the future.

"Stealth blocking" is defined by several characteristics:

- The vast majority of the ISP's end users are not aware of
any blocking being done.

- Even the ISP's own sales and technical support staff are
usually not aware of the blocking practices, and, as the main
point of contact for users, tell them that no blocking is taking

- The blocking is done undetectably, creating the impression
that the target Web site or the destination mail server is
simply not up and running.

This would not include, for example, ISPs that cater to
conservative families by advertising a filtered service, or any
type of opt-in filtering system that is selected or installed by
the end user. An ISP blocking an incoming flood of actual
spam or any other type of denial-of-service attack as
necessary to protect its network would also, of course, not
be included under "stealth blocking."

The most common reason for true stealth blocking is to
boycott certain hosting providers that host content that the
boycott organizers believe is contributing to the problem of
unsolicited bulk email (UBE), or "spam." This can even
include hosting providers that refuse to host "spammers" if
the provider provides hosting to companies that offer software
or consulting services that are legal but can be used by
"spammers." An ISP can use stealth blocking to strengthen
the boycott against one of these providers, by blocking its
own users from viewing all sites hosted by that provider while
avoiding outrage from its own users by hiding the fact that
any blocking is taking place.

The situation provides a valuable test of principle, since many
GILC and IFEA members and other groups are committed to
the cause of fighting unsolicited commercial email. However,
we defend the right of end users to decide what content to
view, whether the content is offensive to others, whether the
content is published by companies that have sold products to
third-party unethical marketers (spammers), or whether that
content is controversial for any other reason. It is not the
function of ISPs to act in loco parentis for users. Boycotts
by individual, informed consumers are an admirable means of
achieving a goal, but "stealth blocking" by ISPs is never
justified, regardless of any noble purpose, since by its
"stealth" nature it violates the principle of end user informed

Constitutional guarantees of free speech in various countries
are not the only safeguards against involuntary censorship.
Truth-in-advertising also serves to protect users, and
individuals who do not sign up for "filtered Internet service"
expect that their ISP will not block their Web access or
outgoing mail. If the ISP has not ensured that end users are
aware of any blocking that is taking place, then the users'
participation in the blocking cannot be called "voluntary."

We believe that ISPs that practice "stealth blocking" are
violating consumer protection principles and restricting user
choice and freedom in cyberspace.


American Civil Liberties Union

Boston Coalition for Freedom of Expression

The Censorware Project

Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility

Digital Freedom Network

Digital Rights

Electronic Frontier Foundation

Electronic Frontiers Australia

Electronic Privacy Information Center

The Ethical Spectacle


Human Rights Network

Internet Freedom


Journalism Education Association


National Coalition Against Censorship
[The positions advocated by NCAC do not necessarily reflect
the positions of each of its participating organizations.]


Online Policy Group



Privacy Ukraine



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published on: 2001-05-18
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