Filtering in UK government departments

On the 9-11 December 2013, MP Valerie Vaz asked the UK government departments whether they block access to specific websites and domain and if they will publish that list.

Below you can find the response of each department including the response of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

Government departments

Home Department

The Minister for Security, James Brokenshire answered that websites in the Home Department were blocked in two broad groups. The first are a list of websites that have been notified by as potentially harmful. The second group are sites that fall under the following categories:

Pornography; Anonymisers; Gruesome Content; Violence Games/Cartoon Violence; Extreme; Social Networking; Browser Exploits; Consumer Protection (sites that try to rob or cheat consumers); Illegal UK (this includes sites notified to McAfee by the Internet Watch Foundation); Malicious Downloads; Malicious Sites; Phishing; Potentially Unwanted Programs; Spam URLs; Spyware/Adware/Keyloggers.[1]

Department of Energy and Climate Change

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, Greg Barker MP answered that the department pays a subscription to a commercial supplier that blocks or permits websites according to pre-determined categories that have been outlined by the department.

He said a list would not be released as it is updated on a daily basis and thus might not reflect an accurate state.[2]

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The under-secretary for DEFRA, Daniel Rogerson MP, answered that websites are blocked on the basis of whether they are " illegal or could reasonably be regarded as offensive, obscene or otherwise inappropriate". Examples of these categories are

"pornography, offensive or harassing statements or language including disparagement of others based on their race, national origins, sex, sexual orientation, gender reassignment or transgender, marriage or civil partnership, pregnancy or maternity, age, disability, religion or belief, gambling, illegal trading, and any activities that could lead to financial or legal consequences or reputational damage to the DEFRA network." [3]

Department for Law Officers'

The attorney-general Oliver Heald MP answered that their department also pays a subscription to a commercial company that blocks the websites according to whether they fall under the pre-determined categories. All websites that fall under the category will be blocked, unless there is a specific business interest in unblocking it.

He has also said that a list will not be published since it is updated on a daily basis[4]

Department for Business, Innovation and Skills

Jo Swinson MP, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills answered that they run a filtering system provided by a commercial supplier with pre-determined categories to block certain websites. Those categories are:

Adult/Mature Content; Child Pornography; Computer/Information Security; Controlled Substances; Extreme; Hacking; Malicious Outbound Data/Botnets; Malicious Sources/Malnets; Marijuana; Phishing; Piracy/Copyright Concerns; Pornography; Potentially Unwanted Software; Proxy Avoidance; Scam/Questionable/Illegal; Spam; Suspicious; Violence/Hate/Racism.[5]

Department for Culture, Media and Sport

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Helen Grant MP, answered that there is no specific list of blocked content, instead the department uses a type of

"web protection tool that intelligently filters or blocks access to certain types of inappropriate content such as pornography".[6]

Department for Defence

Anna Soubry MP, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence, answered that the major networks in the department connect to the internet via the enterprise gateway service that blocks a pre-determined category of sites including:

"gambling and pornography; individual sites such as commercial auction sites; ones that pose a technical security risk, including web based mail systems, translation sites, those using mobile code; social media (currently under review)."[7]

There are however, computers with direct internet connections which are filtered according to individual management.[8]

Department for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

David Lidington MP, the Minister for Europe, said that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office complies with the Government's Security Policy Framework, particularly the Mandatory Requirement 39 that stipulates departments to comply with the Codes of Connection. They block specific predetermined sites that fall under the following categories:

those that contain viruses, trojans or other malicious software;sites that by-pass anti-virus defences; pornography and hate sites; gaming and gambling; bandwidth intensive sites which place excessive demands on the FCO's corporate infrastructure.[9]

Department for International Development

The Minister of State, Department for International Development, Alan Duncan MP, answered

DFID can neither confirm nor deny whether websites or domains are blocked as this could provide information useful to those wishing to harm IT systems.[10]

Department for Work and Pensions

Mike Penning MP said that the department uses a filtering service that is provided to them by their ISP. The categories which are blocked are:

Adult/Sexually Explicit; Chat; Criminal Activity; Downloads; Gambling; Games; Hacking; Illegal Drugs; Intolerance and Hate; Peer-to-peer; Personals and Dating; Phishing and Fraud; Proxies and translators; Ringtones/Mobile phone downloads; Spam URLs; Spyware; Streaming media; Tasteless and Offensive; Unscannable; Violence; Weapons; Web-based e-mail[11]

Department for Health

Daniel Poulter MP said that the department uses industry standard tools to block access to certain websites, but will not disclose the list because it"may aid those with malicious intent."[12]

Northern Ireland

The secretary of state for Nothern Ireland, Theresa Villiers MP, has said that the IT Assist Confidential (ITAC), which is a service provided by the Enterprise Shared Services, Department of Finance and Personnel manages the automatic filtering of all websites for the department and that she does not possess the list.[13]