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Yes Scotland web site blocked by Internet filters in Scottish school

Mark Leiser: I am a PhD Candidate in Cyber Law at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow. I have written submissions for the Leveson Inquiry into the culture and ethics of the media and for the Scottish Parliament on the use of social media during trials. My PhD is supervised by Professor Andrew Murray at the London School of Economics and focuses on the effectiveness of cyber-regulation. My research and interests revolve around main areas of Internet law and policy including internet governance & regulation, democracy, social media, privacy, and intellectual property. My PhD research focuses on developing a system of modelling to measure the effectiveness and legitimacy of Internet Regulation. I write in a personal capacity.

A young student at St Stephens school in Port Glasgow in Scotland posted a picture of what appears to be evidence that her school was blocking the Yes Scotland website. Caitlin Brannigan tweeted that the Yes Scotland site was blocked completely from viewing from school computers, while the Better Together site was accessible to students. Ms Brannigan can be said to be a keen and active member of the Independence movement and spent the weekend campaigning for the Yes vote.

Ms Brannigan’s tweet was retweeted nearly 200 times and was brought to the attention of a Labour Inverclyde counsellor whose smug reply to an interested Twitter user brought on a barrage of abuse. The conversation began with a tweet from Scott Gillan: “@kilmacolm1 How long will it take to resolve Yes Scotland page being blocked in our schools clr?” to which councillor McCabe responded: “@ScottPGillan 7 months I’m told Lol”. Mr McCabe has since deactivated his Twitter account citing online abuse from the “cyber-nats”.

It is unclear whether the filtering was done internally by a school IT administrator or whether the school’s Internet Service Provider was behind the site-blocking. The Inverclyde Council has blamed the problem on a ‘glitch’ and has claimed to have fixed the problem, but subsequent reports have claimed that the site was blocked under content filtering by the school’s internal network.

Last year a bill giving sixteen and seventeen year olds the right to vote in the Independence referendum was passed by MSPs on the last day of the term. The UK government previously opposed votes for 16 and 17-year-olds in the independence referendum, although the measure was eventually included in the Edinburgh Agreement, which set out the terms for the vote and was signed by both Westminster and Scottish ministers.

Announcing the measure as part of the Scottish Referendum (Franchise) Bill earlier this year, Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said young people had the biggest stake in the future of the country. Internet filtering was at the centre of a storm late last year after David Cameron mandated that companies like Virgin, Sky, and BT implement filtering in order to give families control over the content accessible on the web.

While it is unclear whether this was an internal filtering issue or one by the ISP, filtering raises questions over who is controlling the gates. Criticism of filtering has often been based around the concept of censorship. Worries were expressed that politicians (or people in a gatekeeping role) could press to move new categories of “undesirable” sites into blocked bands with little oversight.

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