Massive Site-Blocking Measures Countered By 100K Browser Addon Users
In July 2015, Portugal’s Ministry of Culture announced the signing of a memorandum between its own General Inspection of Cultural Activities (IGAC), the Portuguese Association of Telecommunication Operators (APRITEL), various rightsholder groups, the body responsible for administering Portugal’s .PT domain, and representatives from the advertising industry.
The memorandum laid out a new mechanism for blocking so-called ‘pirate’ sites. In common with similar frameworks elsewhere, the process can be triggered by a complaint from a rightsholder association. Local anti-piracy group MAPINET then collates evidence that a site is engaged in the unlawful distribution of copyright works and has failed to cease its activities.
The system was quickly utilized by rightsholders seeking to block access to their content. Within six months, 330 sites had been blocked by ISPs, but that was only the beginning. In the months and years that followed, hundreds more sites were rendered inaccessible but in common with similar programs elsewhere, no official list of blocked sites was made available. People are keeping watch, however.
SitesBloqueados (Blocked Sites) is a web portal run by Revolução dos Bytes (Bytes’ Revolution), a group of like-minded anti-censorship activists in Portugal. Created a few months after blocking began in the region, their comprehensive database now contains almost 1,400 domains, the majority of which have been blocked on copyright grounds.
“SitesBloqueados was mainly created because, although the Memorandum of Understanding contained certain requirements to make a site eligible to be blocked – such as 500 items [or links] to copyright content or one third of the site containing copyrighted material – there was no official way to validate that data and make sure that these ‘rules’ are being respected,” team member Henrique Mouta informs TF.
The manner in which the list is maintained is quite unique. As mentioned earlier, there are no official sources listing blocked domains so the people behind SitesBloqueados had to get creative. Alongside this project they also run Ahoy!, a Chrome and Firefox extension that allows users to circumvent censorship in Portugal and it’s through that tool they gather information.
“Ahoy! basically bypasses any traffic to a blocked site through our own proxies, allowing the users to navigate in a free, uncensored internet,” Henrique explains.
As this extension works on a whitelist basis, we had to create a mechanism to automatically detect and whitelist sites that have been blocked, so if a user accesses a blocked site that is not on our list yet, we get a notification so we can review the site and add it to the list. That is the list that is also powering SitesBloqueados.pt.”
When the voluntary agreement was first announced, local ISPs came under intense criticism for agreeing to work with copyright holders without need for a court process. However, Henrique says they are actually in a precarious position.
“We usually see the ISPs as the bad guys, blocking sites, throttling our internet and, more recently, going against the Internet Neutrality. But, in this particular case, all the major ISPs are forced to block any sites that …read more
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