O2 plays down accusations of Tor censorship

Mobile operator claims child protection requires site blocking until unlocked

Stewart Mitchell
24 Jan 2012

Mobile phone operators have played down accusations made by the Tor privacy network that they are censoring the site.

Tor runs a project to provide anonymity online and is designed to protect activists and other privacy conscious internet users. However, visitors from a variety of UK mobile phone networks have seen the main Tor website blocked if they are using a pre-paid handset with child-protection settings activated.

“Recently, it has come to our attention that our primary website is filtered by Vodafone in the UK, by 3 in the UK, by O2 in the UK, and by T-Mobile in the UK and the USA,” Tor said in a posting on its blog.

“It used to be the case that we only saw filtering and censorship events in places like Egypt, Syria, or Iran and now we're going to explore what those attacks look like in the context of the UK and the USA.”

Any site classified as an ‘anonymiser’ site cannot be accessed by children due to the protection mechanism we have in place to stop them from accessing adult content

The group went on to explain that “this attack, while primitive, demonstrates an active and malicious action on the part of the above named internet providers”.

It added that although existing users would not be affected, the networks were “attempting to deny new users the ability to start using Tor without extensive efforts”.

O2 said it only blocks the site for people with content controls switched on and that adults could have the block removed if they proved they were over 18 by providing credit card details.

While the credit card verification system may be unpopular with many users, O2 said it had to block Tor as its child protection measures would be rendered pointless otherwise.

“Any site classified as an ‘anonymiser’ site cannot be accessed by children due to the protection mechanism we have in place to stop them from accessing adult content,” O2 said in a statement. “This is because anonymiser sites bypass the adult content filters we have in place and thus could enable children to access unrestricted material.

“Access to anonymiser sites is allowed as long as you are over 18 and you have age verified yourself,” the company added.

Vodafone, by contrast, explained that its blocking of Tor was a mistake, which it would rectify by unblocking the proxy service.

The other providers accused of blocking access have yet to get back to us.

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