Fanboyism is not a crime!

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Apparently the City of Boston's free wireless service has some kind of censorware on it, since it's blocking Boing Boing:

Jake tried to access Boing Boing from Boston's free WiFi network and got this notice -- topped by the seal of the Mayor of Boston no less! Banned in Boston -- first they came for the Mooninites, then they came for the Boingers.

Want to defeat censorware? Let freedom ring!

Update: Seth sez, "The phrase 'Banned combination phrase found' is a characteristic message of the censorware Dan's Guardian. It seems some combination of words has triggered the 'isItNaughty' flag (that's what they call it). It would be an interesting legal case to see if you had the right to file a Freedom Of Information Act for the settings and block logs to find out the exact reason you got censorware'd."

This seems like a not particularly attractive development. Ubiquitous Internet (free or otherwise) is a really cool thing and is going to enable all sorts of applications we've just begun to experience (and of which today's low-speed cellular Internet access is just a pale shadow). But it's going to be pretty lame if that network can be arbitrarily censored by random bureaucrats. I know, I know, this is just the free network: you can always pay for some sort of commercial wireless. That's not really true, though; a taxpayer subsidized free WiFi network is going to make it pretty unattractive for commercial providers to enter the market, so you'll just be stuck with the censored version unless you're willing to plug in somewhere.

Moreover, I'm not a constitutional lawyer (or indeed any kind of lawyer), but it's not entirely clear to me that this is constitutional. The First Amendment requires that government fora have viewpoint neutrality (as a somewhat strained analogy, consider the situation with advertisements in subways, where the government has been forced in at least some cases to allow pro-marijuana reform advertisements once they allowed any advertisements). Given that unlike subway advertisements Web access doesn't require subjecting others to your speech, it would seem that there would be a stronger case that censorship was impermissible here. Stepping back from the constitutional question, it's pretty hard to understand what the rationale for banning Boing Boing is (though I've heard it suggested that it was for making fun of the Great Comedy Central Boston Bomb Scare of 2007, which I suppose is possible, but isn't something you'd want to get out of you were the guy who made this decision.

1 Comments

It is not immediately clear that the structure of the public/private partnership which supports the project would require uncensored access. Private companies provide several of the component services at their expense, in anticipation of the creation of a common good, and its doubtful they can be compelled to allow any data flow.

Given the setup, the court might enforce the right for a business to decide whether to offer "unlimited viewing" through their component of the network.

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