The other night, I listened to the great Alex Jones, who complained rightly and bitterly that his websites are ‘on a government blacklist’, making them inaccessible on the free wireless network at St Pancras Station. thinkprogress.org is also blocked as are many others. These websites are not blocked in China, “public enemy number one” when it comes to web censorship so we are told.
I decided to see for myself what the precise details of this blocking are, and made a few google searches and phone calls.
My preliminary research shows us the following:
St Pancras Wi-Fi is run by a company called ‘CitySpace‘.
and here are some of the people they work with:
Cityspace is proud to work with many clients and partners to deliver sustainable urban digital networks, including:
Bracknell Forest Borough Council
Bristol City Council
City of York Council
Cornwall County Council
Department for Transport
Department for Work and Pensions
Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council
Essex County Council
Hampshire County Council
London Borough of Havering
London Borough of Sutton
London Borough of Tower Hamlets
London Borough of Waltham Forest
National Rail Enquiries
Newcastle City Council
Norfolk County Council
North Tyneside Council
Plymouth City Council
Portsmouth City Council
Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea
Royal Borough of Kingston
South Tyneside Council
South Yorkshire PTE
Southend-on-sea Borough Council
Suffolk County Council
Sunderland City Council
Surrey County Council
Transport for London
West Sussex County Council
Lots of government contracts.
CITYSPACE Company Info:
Industry Consumer Services
Employees 100 – 250
Revenue $50 – 100M
Owership Privately Held
I telephoned CitySpace, and asked wether or not there is a blacklist on the St Pancras station Wi-Fi.
I spoke to a polite man who told me without any hesitation that the people who run St Pancras requested that the service be flittered, and that the list of sites to be blocked comes from a company that provides the blocking software, “it’s an off the shelf product” is how he described it.
He said that he would find out all the details for me and then let me know the who and what and where.
St Pancras Station is run by London & Continental Stations and Properties.
Here is the Wikipedia entry:
London & Continental Railways (LCR) is a railway company based in the United Kingdom.
Created at the time of the Privatisation of British Rail it bid for and won the contract from the UK government in 1996 to build and operate High Speed 1 between London and the Channel Tunnel. As part of this deal the European Passenger Services (EPS) and Union Railways sections of British Rail were handed over to LCR as well as key pieces of railway infrastructure including St Pancras railway station and Manchester International & North Pole depots.
EPS was the British arm of the joint Eurostar operation, along with SNCF and NMBS/SNCB. LCR renamed EPS as Eurostar (U.K.) Ltd. (EUKL). Union Railways had been developing plans for HS1 since before the opening of the Channel Tunnel and continued this role as part of LCR.
The original shareholders of LCR were National Express Group, Virgin Group, SBC Warburg, Bechtel and London Electric. As part of the 1996 contract LCR were to finance and construct the Channel Tunnel Rail Link (CTRL) themselves, funding it from income received from the Eurostar operation.
In 1998 LCR ran into major financial difficulties and appealed to the UK government for support. It admitted that income from its share of the Eurostar operation was not at the level it expected and would therefore not be able to undertake construction of HS1. At this time the future of the high speed line looked in doubt. See here for more details.
In 2006 LCR put forward a proposal to build a domestic high speed line north of London — see High-speed rail in the United Kingdom.
2006 shareholders & status
The current structure of LCR is complex due to numerous reorganisations, for example SNCF is involved in the Eurostar operation at three different levels. Current shareholders in LCR are:
- Rail Link Engineering (RLE)
- National Express Group
- EDF Energy
- UBS investment bank
The construction of the CTRL is being project managed for LCR by RLE. Current shareholders in RLE are:
Since the 1998 reorganisation the operation of EUKL has run as under a management contract by InterCapital and Regional Rail (ICRR). Current ICRR shareholders are:
- National Express Group (40%)
- SNCF (35%)
- NMBS/SNCB (15%)
- British Airways (10%)
Operation of the line will be undertaken by Network Rail under a contract lasting until 2086, when LCR’s concession ends too, and all rights return to the British Government.
Now what we have to hear is which ‘off the shelf product’ is being used as the filter list.
I will update this post tomorrow.
I the mean time, if you ever find yourself in St Pancras or any other place where the internetz are blocked in some way, like a public library, you can get around the censorship very easily. There is no excuse for passively accepting censorship in the age of the internets, and it is up to you to be active, computer literate, and to know the tools you are using so you can free the information that you require for yourself.
First of all, open Firefox (ummm you ARE running Firefox on Ubuntu arent you?) and then, and then do the following
Select which proxy you would like to use
surf to Samair’s Proxy List and select the country you want to surf from.
Write down the IP and port for the proxy that you would like to use. Example: IP: 220.127.116.11 Port: 38130
Configure FireFox to use the proxy server by opening your browser. Click on Tools and select “Options” as shown below.
Click on the General tab and then the Connection Settings button.
Click the radio button for Manual proxy configuration.
Type in the proxy ip address and port that you wrote down. from the http list in step # 2.
Step #7 Check the box for Use this proxy for allprotocols.
Now you are done. Click on the OK button until you are back to the main FireFox window. Start a new FireFox session or refresh the page and you should be connected via the proxy server.
Now browse to Whatismyip.com to check your ip address. http://www.whatismyip.com/
It should display the IP you are using as your proxy. If not, select another proxy server and try again.
Thanks to Unique Internet Services for the text and screengrabs.
The procedure is more or less the same for Safari on OSX.
If you are a running Microsoft Windows (which you should not be) and are using Internet Explorer (even worse), you can use these instructions.
UPDATE 1: August 7th
I spoke to CitySpace today, to the same person I spoke to originally.
He told me that he conferred with people in CitySpace, and they said that, “it was not for them to confirm this” and that “I would have to speak to St Pancras about it. There are 25 people in blue coats at St Pancras to answer these sorts of questions”.
I said, “so there are 25 COMPUTER LITERATE people in blue coats who are able to tell me what blocking software is being used to filter their Wi-Fi network? I think we both know that is highly unlikely!” He agreed. I thanked him and hung up.
On to St Pancras, phoned them, got the reception, passed to some upper guy, transferred up again, spoke to a woman, who said, “they took advice that certain websites should be blocked.
I said, “well I would like to know who gave you that advice”.
She said, “we chose to block certain websites like pornography, ‘hate sites’ and such…”
I said, “Let me make myself absolutely clear; I accept that this is a private network, and you have the right to block whatever you like on it. What I want to know is why you are blocking certain sites, who sold you the blocking list and why innocuous websites are on that blocking list”
She said, “what website were you trying to get to in particular? Were you a customer of St Pancras or a passenger?”
I said, “I was a passenger and I tried to get to thinkprogress.org”
She said, “and what sort of website is that?”
I said, “its a news website, like bbc.co.uk” ( 😮 )
She said, “do you have a personal interest in this site, because you seem to be quite agitated about this”
I said, “no, I’m not agitated, I had a double espresso at lunch! I simply want to know why these websites are blocked.”
She then said that she would look into it, and that this is a service that just recently went live and that if there are things that are blocked that should not be they would need to look into that, and that if members of the public call them to comment on the service they would look into how it is working.
She said that if I call her tomorrow morning, she should have some answers for me.
Update to follow!
UPDATE 2: August 8th
I spoke to the woman at St Pancras who told me to call her today. She said that she had spoken to someone about this, and that she had not been given the information, but she was told to give me the mobile number of a person who did have the information.
I spoke to this person for 25 minutes, and during the conversation he divulged the following:
- They are running an off the shelf software product.
- St Pancras, has direct control over the list, and can block and unblock any site.
- They have a review system, whereby people can appeal to have their site unblocked. They then take a decision to keep a site blocked or to unblock it. They will do this on a case by case basis, and in order to make an appeal, a site owner should contact Media at St Pancras.
- They were advised by “independent third parties” as to what shape the provision of the free Wi-Fi should take.
- It is possible that certain political websites may be “caught up in the trawl” of blocked sites.
- He refused to say who provided this list of blocked sites, or who the vendor of the software was.
That last call was the longest of all, taking the total time of all the calls to around 55 minutes.
The fact of the matter is (and this is me talking) that St Pancras free Wi-Fi is a private network, and as such, they can block whatever they like on it. They are under no obligation to provide access to anything whatsoever, and if you want free and unfettered internet access, you have to retain and use the skills and tools that are freely available to you to make the magic happen.
If you rely on the providers of train stations and rail services or anyone other than a pure ISP to connect you with the internet, then you are submitting to the prejudices, ignorance, guidelines and the ‘third party advice’ that govern their networks. It is up to you to find out how things really work and then take the appropriate steps so that your experience is unfiltered.
Think about it this way; if a publisher rejected an advertisement you wanted to publish, you wouldn’t think you have a right to have it displayed in their newspaper or magazine? You absolutely do not have a right to be published in anyone’s magazine, and you also do not have a right to have your content re-transmitted over someone’s private network. You DO have the right to publish what you want, and to distribute it to whoever you like…its up to you to make sure that your content is deliverable. In the past, this meant finding a distributor to get your content to the shops. Now it means making sure that your readers and listeners are well versed in proxy tools so that no matter where they are, they will always be able to connect to you.
You do not even have to write the software to do this yourself. There are toolbars and addons out there that make getting around censorship as simple as a single click of a button.
The distinction between a private and public network, between private and public space, is very important, and many people have a blurry / fuzzy idea in their heads about what these concepts actually encompass.
Censorship in China, which is by the GOVERNMENT and censorship of a PRIVATE WI-FI NETWORK are two different things; it is the difference between self censorship and censorship from above that covers everything everywhere. If what I have been told is true, then this is a case of the former; even if the people who offer the software are a government front, and even if the ‘independent third parties’ are compromised in some way, St Pancras have the final say and fine grained control on what is blocked. This is fundamentally different to China blocking everything at the network level.
Could someone telephone them and tell them to keep certain sites blocked? Of course. But all of this is moot if you are able to use your computer to get around blocking software, which is why it is so important to spread information about how to get around filtering with tools like TOR and setting proxies.
You can expect more and more filtering on private networks that are accessible to the public. The people who run these private networks are not interested in providing access to everything, will actively suppress ‘inaccurate information on blogs’, swallow wholesale the advice of third parties, will deploy banning lists provided to them by third parties unquestioned, see no value in the free flow of information, and in the case of St Pancras specifically, do not think much about it as they are more interested in running trains on time. They feel they are doing you a favor (and really, this is correct) by letting you have access to anything at all for free in the first place; they make no money out of it, it has nothing to do with trains and it means they have to employ people to bluster about their service when something isn’t right.
Finally, do read this page about filtering:
4) INDUCED SELF-CENSORSHIP
Another common and effective strategy to limit exposure to Internet content is by encouraging self-censorship both in browsing habits and in choosing content to post online. This may take place through the threat of legal action, the promotion of social norms, or informal methods of intimidation. Arrest and detention related to Internet offenses, or on unrelated charges, have been used in many instances to induce compliance with Internet content restrictions. In many cases, the content restrictions are neither spoken nor written. The perception that the government is engaged in the surveillance and monitoring of Internet activity, whether accurate or not, provides another strong incentive to avoid posting material or visiting sites that might draw the attention of authorities.
And there you have it!