Los Angeles, CA - Thousands of family friendly Web sites, for no fault of their own, are being rendered inaccessible by "stealth censorship" and it may be putting people's lives at risk, warned SafeSurf, the online safety organization.
This new type of censorship, promoted by a California corporation called Mail Abuse Prevention System, LLC (MAPS), silences every Web site whose address is located on a server that also happens to host one or two unrelated email marketing sites. However, since the browser message displayed says that the Web sites are non-existent, online surfers have no idea they are being denied access to many parts of the Internet.
"This is stealth censorship*", remarked SafeSurf Chairman Ray Soular as he described how Web site owners have no rights under this system. "Mail Abuse Prevention System (MAPS) publicizes its Realtime Blackhole List (RBL) as being only of certified email abusers (spammers). It provides this list to Internet Service Providers (ISP) who rely on its accuracy when shutting out these spammers. In reality, MAPS' practice of listing entire groups of IP numbers, instead of the specific addresses of the spammers, is causing ISPs to shut off access to sites that have done no wrong other than they have similar IP numbers to the spammers. Its like shutting off phone service to thousands of people simply because they have the same prefix as an obscene caller," explained Soular.
"To make matters worse, MAPS has no idea of what content it may be blocking. Imagine trying to connect to a crisis assistance site after a devastating earthquake, only to find its among a vast IP group being blocked by RBL. People can die as the result of their blind imprecision. They MUST be regulated," Soular reasoned.
Teleglobe, a global Internet provider who subscribes to the MAPS' Realtime Blackhole List (RBL), was blocking SafeSurf in many countries, simply because SafeSurf's Web site was on a public server owned by an hosting company once accused of providing services to email marketers.
(News Flash Oct 29, 2001: MAPS removed SafeSurf from its Blackhole list and Teleglobe removed blocking.)
"Under their system, an unsuspecting Web site can become a RBL hostage at any time, for any reason, and without appeal. Unless the owner of the server meets MAPS demands, the innocent hostage site will be left to rot in the 'Blackhole'," pointed out Soular. "This is the worst manifestation of censorship imaginable because it is applied in a way which fools Web surfers into thinking they still have their freedom", said Soular.
Below is the text of SafeSurf's Open Letter to the Internet Community concerning MAPS' Realtime Blackhole List (RBL) that targets general IP groups instead of specific IP addresses.
SafeSurf was recently alerted that we were marked for blocking, for no fault of our own, by Mail Abuse Prevention System's Realtime Blackhole List (RBL). SafeSurf has never sent out a single piece of junk email in the life of our company. Parents and Webmasters depend upon communication from SafeSurf to enable them to protect children on the Internet. As a result, by blocking SafeSurf, MAPS is endangering millions of children across the globe.
MAPS' RBL blocking is censorship in its worst manifestation. It is a extremist system that seeks to censor people simply because they happen to be with the same ISP that has a particular individual that MAPS does not like. Their tactics would be similar to someone using a nuclear weapon to wipe out a cockroach.
Although they may contact the ISP, MAPS makes no effort, whatsoever, to warn the people actually being censored. The innocent Web Sites have to depend on others to discover that their right to free speech has been desecrated. MAPS actions demonstrate what SafeSurf has long suspected; true censorship arises for the purpose of advancing the agenda of a particular group of individuals. Censorship is a broad brush that drips paint on the pure, as well as the tainted.
MAPS may claim that their actions are in the interest of good, but in reality they would easily trade in the good of children to achieve their goal. They have more than proved this point by holding the SafeSurf Web Site hostage until they force the acquiescence of others.
MAPS has no idea of what content it may be blocking. Therefore, they could negligently block sites that contain important life saving medical information, sites that protect children, and sites that output emergency info during tornado watches, fire and flood alerts. Imagine trying to connect to a crisis assistance site after a devastating earthquake, only to find its among a vast IP group being blocked by RBL. People can die as the result of their blind imprecision. They MUST be regulated.
We hate spam as much as anyone else. SafeSurf receives hundreds of spam emails every day. However, we cherish our civil liberties too much to ever trade them to the careless people who are running MAPS. We have tried to reason with MAPS, but they refuse to offer affected Web sites a case-by-case appeal process. They seem to not care about fairness. They are blinded by the smell of spammer's blood and do not seem to care how many innocent Web sites they trounce in the process. Then, they rationalize and try to put the blame for their wanton actions on everyone else.
This issue is completely different from the debate over porn filtering, because in that debate, at least it was agreed that the sites we were discussing were responsible for their acts. In this case, MAPS employs an underhanded tactic of targeting the innocent in order to persuade the guilty.
We must insist that MAPS operate in a responsible manner. A just cause is no excuse for unjust actions. By accepting MAPS, we are, in effect, agreeing to full censorship of anyone, for any reason. This is beyond the worst-case scenarios we could've imagined coming from governments.
MAPS may be on a crusade to rid the Internet of spam, but this should not give them the authority to deny freedoms to the blameless. It should not give them the power to shroud someone's brilliance simply because it happens to be on a MAPS targeted ISP. It should not give them the right to make a mockery of the pillars upon which America was built.
I feel sorry for all the subscribers to Teleglobe, which trusts MAPS' RBL list. They have traded access to the truth in exchange for a cleaner mailbox. The really sad part is they don't even know it.
We must raise our voices to warn the online world of stealth censorship. For in the end, we will either loudly hold on to our liberty or it will become clear that we gave up our rights by our silence.
Ray Soular, Chairman
* The term, stealth blocking, was first used by Bennett Haselton in "The Coalition Statement Against Stealth Blocking" to be found at http://www.peacefire.org/.