As a curtain of censorship falls over the UK internet, this special investigation uncovers the deception and elite players behind the murky system of corporate web filters, which block far more than pornography. Disturbingly, the trail points back to a notorious and controversial elite cabal — the ultra-secretive Bilderberg Group.
The UK’s sweeping internet censorship plans are ramping up, with the country’s main internet service providers (ISPs), who service 95% of UK households, rolling out ‘default’ web filters to meet the government’s call for an internet clampdown. State-sanctioned internet filtering on this scale, often condemned when carried out by authoritarian regimes, is unparalleled in “free” western countries and sets a dangerous precedent. The way this policy has been introduced, sold and now implemented has been misleading and deceptive all along. Last year, Prime Minister David Cameron led the public to believe this is all about blocking pornography to stop the “corruption of childhood”, but it’s apparent the well-worn “think of the children” argument was just Trojan horse propaganda to create a moral pretext for introducing extensive censorship infrastructure. While proponents point out people can still ask their ISPs to turn the filters off, the problem is the filters block more than people are led to believe and operate without transparency. They already target much more than pornography, and their reach will likely creep as time goes on. This is already happening. And who ultimately decides what these unaccountable, shadowy corporate web filters block is shrouded in mystery.
There was a long, well-orchestrated campaign to put these filters in place. A moral panic about online pornography was carefully manufactured to pave the way years before this occurred. I hope to unravel how this happened, and who is involved. A look at the players and history leading up to the policy announcement reveals the influence of various elite powerbrokers in government, media, international business, and religious lobby groups. Ultimately, the trail appears to point back to the ultra-secretive Bilderberg Group — a shadowy annual gathering of corporate, financial, international and government elites who meet on the sly away from the public eye, and discuss — and some would say set — global policy in complete secrecy. I am concerned that behind these machinations is a hidden agenda that could see swathes of alternative websites blacked-out in a so-called free country, and that alternative spirituality is bound to be targeted. I am also concerned that the UK may just be the beginning. At this juncture it is important to reflect on how this policy arose, and where it is headed, to understand the serious ramifications for Britain and potentially the world. This article is a detailed investigation, so I’ve broken it up into 5 pages. I wanted to put all this information together in one post, and it turns out I dug up a lot more than I initially expected. So to get a full picture of what is going on here, let’s take a look at how this censorship system works, then we’ll examine the elite powerbrokers pushing these plans, and the far-reaching implications of their agenda.
The Problem: Anti-Porn Catch-cry Just a Cover for a Sweeping Censorship Coup
In July last year, UK Prime Minister David Cameron called for internet censorship in the UK under the guise of protecting children from accessing legal pornography (illegal child abuse material was already blocked). This happened after a moral panic about pornography had been running for some time, which I’ll explain further on.
After the announcement, digital rights advocate Open Rights Group warned the filters would target multiple content categories in addition to pornography, including “esoteric material” and “web forums”. Many predicted the sweeping state-sanctioned web filters would wind up extending far beyond porn. And that’s exactly what happened. These are not merely “porn filters” despite being deceptively referred to as such.
Now operational, the filters do indeed block a murky medley of content categories. Swathes of non-pornographic websites have already been caught in the dragnet, including charities and women’s rights websites. Those who warned over-blocking would happen — either by design or by accident — have been proven right. And since the filters have been announced, the government has suggested it will now seek to block “extremist websites” and “unsavoury content” without providing any clear explanation of how these terms will be applied. The Government’s use of vague and slippery catch-all terms have many concerned the filters will inevitably be used to suppress dissent.
An Outsourced Censorship Regime
Unlike in countries like China, the UK has outsourced web censorship to the private sector, with the UK’s four main ISPs, Talk Talk, BT, Sky and Virgin all filtering their own networks.
The UK Government pressured and coerced the ISPs to install the filters and now, publicly at least, it is standing back and letting the corporations iron out the details. Could this be a shrewd attempt to introduce an unprecedented level of censorship at arm’s length while avoiding liability or accountability for its implementation and overreach?
Lack of Transparency and oversight
There is a major lack of transparency in this setup. Astonishingly, there seems to be no legal oversight or clear regulatory framework for this massive outsourced censorship system. There is no clear and unified definition of blocked content categories or explanations as to why they warrant blocking, and no easy way to find out which sites are blocked or why. There is also no clear way to discover if your website is blocked by one or more of the ISPs (especially if you’re outside the UK), nor is there a single avenue of appeal if you’re even able to find out, because each ISP operates its own inscrutable filter. This leaves the public in the dark as to what is really happening — and perhaps that’s just how the government wants it.
The opaque system is probably deliberate. Not only does it allow the Government to wash its hands and avoid being held accountable for the implementation of the creeping censorship it introduced, but it makes it possible for hidden players to influence things behind the scenes unseen, and for a range of content to be blocked without people even realising it. A system so unaccountable is ripe for misuse, abuse and overreach.
The government has faced some hiccups however. Over-blocking concerns were highlighted after charity websites were blocked. In response the Government announced that it was covertly setting up a whitelist to protect the sites deemed off-limits from the filters. But just think of the implications of this. A backroom gathering of officials has now taken upon itself, behind closed doors, to unilaterally pick out the sites out of the millions on the World Wide Web that they think should not be censored by their filtering system, which they also instated through backroom meetings. Does this mean that any sites that don’t make it on the whitelist are fair game? And if the government has taken upon itself to setup a whitelist, has it also setup a blacklist? If so, how do you find out if you are on it?
‘Active Choice’ or Censorship by Stealth?
Advocates are quick to point out people still have a choice and the filtering is not mandatory. The ISPs are pre-ticking their blocked content categories in the sign-up process for new customers. This means people can manually un-tick and “opt out” of any categories they don’t want blocked. But given that people tend to trust default settings given by their providers, could it be people are being nudged into selecting censorship by stealth? And if people don’t know how the filters really work and what they actually block, can they really make an informed choice? Proponents of the censorship also often completely ignore the rights of content creators in this system. People whose websites are arbitrarily blocked in the UK will have a hard time discovering it. What “active choice” do they have? How can private companies be given so much unaccountable power over what content is appropriate or not for the UK population? How did this happen? How did this extensive and insidious stealth censorship infrastructure get rolled out while people were hoodwinked into thinking it was all about saving children from porn? To understand how, let’s take a look at the way these plans unfolded and examine the elite powerbrokers linked to these developments, including those with connections to the Bilderberg Group.
UK Censorship Policy Origins and the Bilderberg Meeting in 2006
It took years to prep the public for this state-sanctioned censorship scheme outsourced to corporations. To understand how, we have to turn back the clock to 2006. It was a pivotal year. 2006 was the year George Osborne, a super-rich aristocrat, then in opposition as the UK Conservative Party’s shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, travelled to Canada for his first Bilderberg conference. He has been a regular attendee to Bilderberg meetings since, attending Bilderberg 2014 currently being held in Copenhagen, his seventh time at the elite secret assembly of global powerbrokers. 2006 was also the year ex-banker Claire Perry joined the Conservative Party.
In 2007, she became George Osborne’s “political advisor” and has been described as his protÃ©gÃ©. In November 2009, with backing from George Osborne, the Conservative party selected Claire Perry ahead of 184 other candidates to stand for election in the safe seat of Devizes in the upcoming UK election, virtually parachuting her into a political career.
2010: New government, old agendas
It was in 2010 when the push for web censorship began in earnest. But first the groundwork had to be laid.
In the lead up to the 2010 UK election, David Cameron pledged to clamp down on the ‘inappropriate sexualisation’ of children if elected. He published a piece in the Daily Mail claiming that: “Premature sexualisation is like pollution. It’s in the air that our children breathe. All the time. Every day”. And he vowed to “make Britain a more family-friendly place to live”.
In May 2010 the Conservative Party won Government in coalition with the Liberal Democrats. David Cameron became Prime Minister while his close friend George Osborn was given charge of the economy as Chancellor of the Exchequer — generally considered the second most powerful position in government. George Osborne’s “protÃ©gÃ©” Claire Perry came to occupy a “surprisingly large” office in Whitehall for a junior MP, sharing an office with the Chancellor’s staff.
In late May the new administration released its program for government, which included vague pledges to tackle the undefined “sexualisation of childhood”.
Soon a few religious lobby groups joined the act. In August Mother’s Union launched a campaign to “challenge the commercialisation and sexualisation of childhood” and “influence government to take action on the issue”. Then in October 2010 the religious pressure group Media March formally registered as the charity Safer Media with the specific objective to “minimise the availability of potentially harmful media content”.
Now all the pieces were in place, and the propaganda campaign began in earnest.
Claire Perry’s Blueprint to Block Porn with ISP Filters
In November 2010, Safer Media held a Parliamentary Conference titled “The Harm that Pornography Does; Its Effects on Adults and Children and the Need for Regulatory Reform”. The group’s co-founder Miranda Suit followed up with an article in the Daily Mail titled I know what internet porn does to children — and it terrifies me”.
Two days later Claire Perry called for internet censorship in a parliamentary debate. This is where the blueprint for the UK’s current network-level filtering scheme was first laid out by a member of the governing party.
Claire Perry’s calls were very specific. She made it clear ISPs should be responsible for controlling children’s access to the internet, not parents. She said ISPs should operate network-level adult content filters and that these should be switched on by default for all customers, who would have to make a conscious choice to switch them off.
“I am asking for a change in regulation that would require all UK-based internet service providers to restrict universal access to pornographic material…” Claire Perry in Parliament, 23 November 2010.
At the heart of her proposal was the view that parents are unable to take responsibility for raising their own children and are incapable of installing parental controls on their own computers, therefore state intervention was needed. She extolled TalkTalk’s plans to introduce a network filter in the new year, but chided them for making it a “voluntary system… with the onus on parents to sign up” instead of “default on” with the onus of users to turn it off.
However, Claire Perry, not being a Minister, was not stating official Government policy at the time, but just what she thought the Government’s policy should be. The Minister for Communications Ed Vaizey initially disagreed with her idea to shift responsibility from parents onto ISPs:
“I hear what my hon. Friend says about the need for ISPs to block this content, but I think it important for parents to take responsibility, and to use the filters and parental controls that are available in current technology to prevent their children from accessing harmful material.” Ed Vaizey, Minister of Communications
But he ended by saying:
“I firmly believe we can make progress, in co-operation with the ISPs, and that we can proceed on the basis of self-regulation. As I have said, I think it is important that we meet and sit around a table to exchange views, and I look forward to brokering such a meeting with my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes and a number of organisations she deems to be appropriate” [emphasis added].
Claire Perry must be very influential indeed. It’s quite interesting that within a few weeks’ time the man supposedly responsible for the UK’s communications policy would not only be toeing Claire Perry’s line after publicly disagreeing with her, but also peddling her views to the media.
Bailey Review Commissioned
Nine days after Claire Perry’s speech in parliament, Mothers’ Union CEO Reg Bailey (the first man to be appointed CEO of the organisation in its 120-year history) was appointed by Sarah Tether, Minister of State for Children and Families (and member of the Liberal Democrats), to chair an “independent review” of the “commercialisation and sexualisation of childhood”.
It was reported that some of David Cameron’s closest aides had been “determined to see a clampdown on childhood advertising” but the independent review was undertaken as a “compromise” with its coalition partners after the Conservative Party “faced opposition from some Liberal Democrats worried about censorship and freedom”.
Shock Premature Policy Announcement via Murdoch Media
Then something unexpected happened. Just two weeks after the announcement of an independent review that was yet to commence or make any recommendations, Communications Minister Ed Vaizey made a shock policy announcement via Rupert Murdoch’s paper, The Sunday Times, in an exclusive story announcing a new government plan to have ISPs “voluntarily” implement default network-level filtering to block porn to protect children — exactly what Claire Perry, protÃ©gÃ© of Bilderberg frequenter George Osborne, had called for in parliament weeks earlier.
Vaizey threatened to introduce legislation to force ISPs to filter if they did not “get their acts together” and do so “voluntarily”. This was the man who less than a month ago said that parents needed to take responsibility for their children’s internet use, not ISPs.
The Sunday Times broke the exclusive report in a front page story titled “Internet porn will be blocked to protect all children (pay-walled) and apart from Ed Vaisey, the story also quoted Claire Perry and Safer Media co-founder Miranda Suit. The sudden policy announcement was then extensively re-reported in other media.
TalkTalk, whose plans for network-level filtering was praised by Claire Perry in parliament — and who were caught secretly monitoring the web usage of their 4.2 million users 5 months prior — were also quoted saying: “’If other companies aren’t going to do it [install filters] of their own volition, then maybe they should be leant on.”
The Sunday Times magazine also featured the front page headline “Generation XXX — how internet porn is shaping teenagers’ sex lives”, and included an “eight-page investigation” with the feature article OMG: Porn in cyberspace (pay walled: full version here) which also reported on Ed Vaizey’s announcement and quoted Claire Perry.
The use of the Murdoch media to make the surprise policy announcement, and the pre-prepared editorial focus and support from the paper for the censorship policy, suggests a highly coordinated approach between politicians and media. It should also be noted that the media mogul Rupert Murdoch is a reputed Bilderberger and has a reputation for exerting strong editorial control over the major issues covered by his papers.
The UK Internet Services Providers’ Association (ISPA UK) initially rebuffed the Government’s Murdoch media-announced plan, stating: “ISPA firmly believes that controls on children’s access to the internet should be managed by parents and carers with the tools ISPs provide, rather than being imposed top-down,” which was basically the same view Ed Vaisey had expressed just a few weeks prior.
At this point in time the public was not yet ready to accept the censorship push. But a self-reinforcing feedback loop was built up between the government and lobbyists via the media pushing this agenda, increasing pressure on ISPs to implement censorship at the State’s behest. Over time the pressure increased.
Safer Media and Claire Perry unleash a censorship campaign
In December 2010 Safer Media had an open letter published in The Sunday Times expressing support for Ed Vaizey’s initiative. Claire Perry MP was one of the signatories.
Then in early 2011 Safer Media launched a campaign, headed by Claire Perry, to block online porn. Safer Media provided a template letter for people to write to their ISPs, stating: “I strongly support the initiative, suggested by Claire Perry MP, to switch the default setting for internet pornography into our homes to ‘OFF’…”
By February 2011, Ed Vaizey and Claire Perry were holding a backroom meeting with ISPs to discuss internet filtering, and according to Safer Media went in “armed with over 1000 emails of support from the public.” Initially these censorship moves were supported by parent advocacy group Mumsnet, but they promptly withdrew support after their members “reacted angrily” and “criticised Mumsnet for promoting censorship and shifting responsibility away from parents”.
But Claire Perry is not one to back down when she doesn’t get her way. In March 2011, she famously stormed into the parliamentary tearoom and vented her frustration at not being given the chance to speak in the preceding parliamentary debate. “What have I got to do to be called by the Speaker? Give him a b*** j**?” she fumed. This was not the only occasion the woman who’s been dubbed Britain’s ‘new breed’ or ‘iron lady’ has shown a propensity for a potty mouth. She famously rebuffed claims internet filtering would cause over-blocking as a “load of c**k”. It’s quite ironic that the person most responsible for pushing through the UK’s censorship scheme to “protect the children”, has such little regard for the children in her choice of words as a parliamentarian and role model.
TalkTalk Launch Chinese-linked Web filter
The momentum for Perry’s censorship scheme really gained ground in May 2011 when TalkTalk launched its network-level filter Homesafe, making it the first of the UK’s four major ISPs to fall in line with Perry’s plans.
Much later it was revealed that Homesafe is operated by the Chinese firm Huawei, which is suspected of spying for the Chinese government, and that all of TalkTalk’s web traffic is routed through the company’s filter whether customers have the filters on or off. Disturbingly, the software driving Homesafe is also based on Chinese software initially developed to suppress religious minorities and political dissidents in China. More on that later.
When TalkTalk launched its filter, which was at that stage voluntary (now it is “default on”) Claire Perry welcomed the move as proof her censorship plans were technically feasible. A TalkTalk spokesperson was quoted saying Ed Vaizey and Claire Perry were “very pleased” with the filter, and claimed, “now that one ISP has come out with a solution, I’m sure others will do so too”.
Around the same time, Safer Media and Mediawatch UK ramped up their campaign to get other ISPs to follow in TalkTalk’s government-endorsed footsteps. They held a rally, with Claire Perry in attendance, and erected a “block porn” message in block letters outside British Telecom (BT) offices, one of the UK’s main internet providers.
Bailey Review Published — does not call for ISP filters
In June 2011 the Bailey Review was published. This review reinforced the government’s view of the sexualisation of childhood and was accused of positing a circular argument about this problem that was not backed by research. Nevertheless, the review was notably far more restrained in its recommendations compared to the authoritarian measures Claire Perry and Safer Media wanted.
Bailey called for ISPs to develop and provide parental controls for customers, but did not insist or recommend they be operated at the network-level by the ISPs themselves. In other words, this web control software could be supplied to parents to install and operate on their own computers if they wished to, something many ISPs already did.
Furthermore, the review did not recommend that parental control filters should be “default on”, but instead recommended parents should be given an “active choice”, where they are asked to decide whether they wanted to switch filters on or not. It also suggested these measures should be implemented voluntarily, and that the government should only consider new legislation if voluntary regulation fails. The report warned against overstating the effectiveness of filters, calling them “not completely effective”, and pointing out the need for parents to be “actively responsible” for the safety of their children on the internet.
David Cameron sent a letter to Reg Bailey supporting his report as “consistent with this government’s overall approach and my long held belief that the leading force for progress should be social responsibility, not state control.” The industry response to the review was generally positive, because it did not recommend legislation. The Internet Services Providers Association (ISPA UK) welcomed the report’s “balanced approach” and emphasis on parental responsibility alongside technological solutions, and pointed out most ISPs already offered parental control software which parents could install if they wished.
But the government’s stance would soon harden. As we’ll see, the government would soon be using authoritarian rhetoric, and winning praise from China in the process.