“Review of correspondence from the theater of war by military censors”, an illustration from the journal Priroda i liudi, May 28, 1915 or Coinbase employees doing KYC applicants.

Bitcoin and Censorship

There has been some talk about the internal policies of “The AOL of Bitcoin” Coinbase, which blocks sending and receiving of Bitcoin from addresses and services it deems to be bad.

Some people make the mistake of calling this “Censorship”. It is not. Censorship is something that only the State can do. When a private person or corporation does it, it is editing, or lying, but never censorship. The following example of the free Wi-Fi access block list used by St. Pancras station in London explains this perfectly.

You cannot be for Bitcoin and the freedom to write programmes, serve people and follow your conscience and also demand that people serve men they would rather not serve. Its important to be consistent, ethical and rational, and not conflate the violence of the State with the private acts of free men trading in the market.

The Backstory

The owner of Infowars has complained rightly and bitterly that his websites are ‘on a government blacklist’, making them inaccessible on the free wireless network at St Pancras Station. Think Progress is also blocked as are many others. Interestingly these websites are not blocked in China, widely held to be, “public enemy number one” when it comes to web censorship so we are told again and again.

I decided to see for myself what the precise details of this blocking are, and made a few Google searches and phone calls, to get to the bottom of it.

My preliminary research shows us the following:

St Pancras Wi-Fi is run by a company called ‘CitySpace‘.

This is the press release announcing the contract from 2007.

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:
BAA
 BBC
 Bracknell Forest Borough Council
 Bristol City Council
 City of York Council
 Clear Channel
 Cornwall County Council
 Department for Transport
 Department for Work and Pensions
 Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council
 Ealing Council
 Essex County Council
 First Group
 Gateshead Council
 GNER
 Hampshire County Council
 Islington Council
 Kent Fastrack
 London Borough of Havering
 London Borough of Sutton
 London Borough of Tower Hamlets
 London Borough of Waltham Forest
 London Underground
 Met Office
 National Rail Enquiries
 NEC
 Newcastle City Council
 Newham Council
 Norfolk County Council
 North Tyneside Council
 Plymouth City Council
 Portsmouth City Council
 Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea
 Royal Borough of Kingston
 Serco
 South Tyneside Council
 South Yorkshire PTE
 Southend-on-sea Borough Council
 Suffolk County Council
 Sunderland City Council
 Surrey County Council
 Transport for London
 Traveline
 West Sussex County Council
 Yahoo!

lots of government contracts in there.

CITYSPACE Company Info:
Industry Consumer Services
 Employees 100–250
 Revenue $50–100M
 Owership Privately Held

I telephoned CitySpace, and asked whether 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 filtered, 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 their Wikipedia entry.

If you ever find yourself in St Pancras or any other place where the internet is blocked in some way, like a public library, you can get around the blocks very easily. There is no excuse for passively accepting blocks 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.

All you have to do is install Stealthy for your browser and then the entire internet is there for you to see, no matter where you are on earth.

The Interviews

I spoke to CitySpace, to the same person I spoke to originally. He told me that he conferred with networking 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. I phoned them, got the reception, and was 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” ( sarcasm! )

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 finished by saying that if I call her the following morning, she should have some answers for me.

The Final Boss

I spoke to the woman at St Pancras who told me to call her back the next day. 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.

What It All Means

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 that 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 from your own equipment…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 tool bars and add ons 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 and private and public property 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 a violent act of the State and blocking of a Private Wi-Fi Network are two very different things; it is the difference between choosing not to publish something yourself, which is a matter of personal ethics and taste, and censorship, which only comes from the State, removing your right to publish or read what you want. If what I have been told about St Pancras 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, being a private company, have the final say on what is blocked in the service they voluntarily offer. This is completely different to China or any State censoring sites through coercion and violence.

Could someone telephone St Pancras and tell them to keep certain sites blocked? Of course, but that does not change the principle, and of course 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 eager to sell software and services, 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 favour (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.

Conclusion

All of the above applies to Coinbase and its blocking of addresses and closing of user accounts of men who insist on breaking their rules, or who break their rules without knowing what they are in advance. If you do not like Coinbase, get a Blockchain wallet, where you can send and receive from any address without restrictions, KYC/AML or spying on your transactions.

With Bitcoin, you really are free to do as you please. The shape of this fact is something very new to many people, who can’t yet fully fathom that they can leave services that are not good for them. Its like battery chickens who do not try and flee when their cages are opened. They don’t know what “ouside” means; they have no concept of it.

And yet…its real.


A simple burrito