Open Rights Group

What's the problem?

The UK government has pressured Internet Service Providers (ISPs) into promoting filters to prevent children and young people from seeing content that is supposed to be for over 18s. This may seem like a good idea, but in reality filters block much more than they are supposed to, which means information is being censored.

Each ISP has to make a judgement on what is right for young people and programme their filters accordingly. In practice they outsource this judgement to third parties - who are often based abroad. The Blocked project has exposed how much filtering behaviour varies from ISP to ISP.  With little to no transparency on the processes involved, it isn't clear how these judgements are made.

People are often unaware that their websites are being blocked. If they do find out they can find it difficult to get the block lifted.

Copyright blocks

As well as filters, there are other kinds of website censorship, including copyright blocks. Court orders allow a claimant to order ISPs to block any domain, or sometimes the IP address, that is serving copies of the original content. Orders are usually drafted to be indefinite and blocking pages do not explain the legal basis nor how to complain or correct mistakes. These court-ordered blocks will have some impact on the reports we receive about filtering on networks. ORG has a parallel campaign to make this type of censorship more transparent: 451 unavailable.

Support the Blocked Project

Blocked is a free tool. It was generously funded by our sponsors and ORG supporters - and it was built by ORG volunteers. You can help support this project by:

How Blocked works

Blocked is a unique project that allows people to find out whether their websites are being blocked by filters in the UK. Anyone can submit URLs for testing via the Blocked homepage. We then check whether the URL is blocked by the filters used by the major UK home and mobile broadband providers. The tests are automatic and results are returned within a few seconds. We also display the results of any previous tests for this URL.

We have deployed a number of probes on both mobile and fixed-line ISPs. These probes test whether a particular URL is blocked on the networks to which they are connected. There are overview and use-case diagrams on our wiki that explain the process in more detail if you are interested in learning more.

Project aims

The Blocked project aims to:

  • hold ISPs and the government to account
  • keep a record of the extent of censorship caused by web filters
  • help people to learn about the real effects of filters
  • help people report problems with blocked sites
  • release our code and data under permissive licenses for others to reuse or extend

Future plans

At the moment the checking infrastructure is entirely under ORG's control. In the future we hope to allow people to run their own "probes" so that we can decentralise and test across more networks. We're particularly keen to reach public wifi networks, corporate networks, and smaller mobile networks that we can't cover ourselves.

We have a list of other cool features we'd like to build for the site. Our team of technical volunteers is currently discussing which of these to work on next. If you'd like to get involved you'd be very welcome.

Keep informed

If you would like to keep informed about ORG's work on censorship, privacy, copyright reform and definding human rights and digital civil liberties please sign up for our newsletter.