Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Boing Boing Banned...

Editors Note: I originally wrote this on 2-27 and never pulled the trigger on the "publish" button. Still a viable story and ongoing issue with BoingBoing though.

Over at one of my most favorite blogs they have discovered that their site has recently been included in Secure Computing's Smartfilter nudity category. Since this product is widely used by many large sites including the DOD, many government agencies, universities and even whole countries, their site is no longer available to many readers without a lot of digital wrangling.

While this is really unfortunate as BB is a terrific blog - I think the editors are taking it quite hard. They have started a campaign against Secure computing (and other censorware vendors). While they have a valid argument against censorship in general and the absolute black and white nature of these tools - I think that their considerable influence would be better used in slightly different angle. Call out the system administrators of these sites and get them to relax their policies.

I've included below by correspondence with Cory Doctorow and Xeni Jardin - only to show my position rather than re-write it all here. It's a direct cut and paste from my last email so it's in reverse chronological order - newest stuff at the top. First message at the bottom. Sorry for some of the formatting - shit happens when text passes through two or three email clients.


At02/27/2006 04:37 PM Shawn wrote:
The point is that in some cases - yes - even Google too should be
filtered and the tool should be available to do that.

I agree that this seems draconian but my position of protecting a
publicly accountable organization from stupid employee antics and even
more stupid lawsuits means I have a different perspective on this.
Your statistics on false positives do make a good point but from the
other end of the looking glass things are different. Example - I have a
truly amazing spam filter - almost 70% of our incoming mail is junk and
is dumped - way less than 1% false positives too. However if even one
gets through - especially an offensive message - that is a 100% failure
to the end user and they are convinced that the filter is a POS. Not to
mention the blow back if a paying member of the public was to see an ad
for a porn site on one of our PC's... We would be front page news in

A good analogy would be writing HR policy for a large company.
Policies are written to the lowest common denominator and usually suck.
Some spelling out ridiculous detail. All because some idiot really did
do the thing the policy is written against. Even though you and I would
agree that no rational adult would pull some of the stuff I've seen -
without the policy in force the organization has no legal recourse when
dealing with said moron... Go sit through a few cases in any municipal
court and you will begin to get the idea of stupidity on the hoof out there.

I'm with ya guys - I hate censorship in any form and will stand with the
last man fighting when my government does it - but in this case I really
do think its the sysadmin's you should be calling in on the carpet and
not the software companies.

Thanks for listening - and if I didn't say it before, thanks for
BoingBoing. It rocks. I'll shut up now...

Cory Doctorow wrote:

>> Shawn, you'r emissing the point. They have a 99.5% false positive
>> rate. That's not a well-made tool. That's indiscriminate censorship.
>> By that logic, Google should be filtered because you can get Google
>> Images (even with Safe mode on) to return nudity 0.5 percent of the
>> time if you use the right keywords.
>> Cory
>> On Feb 27, 2006, at 10:52 PM, Xeni Jardin wrote:
>>>> -----Original Message-----
>>>> From: Shawn Mammon []
>>>> Sent: Monday, February 27, 2006 2:52 PM
>>>> To:
>>>> Subject: Censor campaign misses the mark
>>>> Xeni,
>>>> Been reading BB for a long time and 99.999% of the time I'm right
>>>> there with
>>>> ya. This time though I think your good intentions are a bit
>>>> misdirected. I
>>>> manage a fairly large IT shop for a very public organization so I
>>>> see this
>>>> through the eyes of "the man" in this case.
>>>> IMHO placing the blame on censor ware companies is pretty much the same
>>>> thing as blaming gun manufacturers for murder. It's not the tool -
>>>> it's the tool that uses it...
>>>> I'm sorry but if Secure Computing didn't include you in the nudity
>>>> filter
>>>> they would be crucified for not being thorough, and their customers
>>>> would
>>>> drop them like a hot rock. Even if it's a tiny portion of your
>>>> posts the
>>>> fact is still - that it's there. Secure is doing it's job, sadly
>>>> the market
>>>> exists (and I'm sorry, but it's needed. I'd be happy to elaborate if
>>>> you
>>>> like) It's up to the individual sysadmin to decide if a site should be
>>>> removed from the filter or treated
>>>> differently. It's Secure's job to provide the tool. That's all.
>>>> Attacking an otherwise excellent company (yes I use their firewall
>>>> products
>>>> and they have a spotless record with us) is fruitless and runs
>>>> counter to
>>>> the normally well conceived and rational approach you and your co-
>>>> editors
>>>> usually employ.
>>>> -- Shawn