Wednesday, August 30, 2006
FREE PRESS: NYTimes submits to British law, censoring story by IP
Why the NYT web block doesn't work
The New York Times' attempt to block UK web users from reading a story on
its website is difficult to enforce
Wednesday August 30, 2006
The New York Times' efforts to block internet users in Britain from reading a page on its website are unlikely to succeed - and for some UK users do not work at all, allowing them normal access to the article.On Monday, the newspaper attempted to block UK access to the story, headlined "Details emerge in British terror case", on the investigation into alleged attempts to bomb transatlantic flights.
It gave English legal restrictions on reporting of investigations prior to a trial as its reason for the blocking.
Most UK users attempting to access the article see an error page explaining this, but staff at some organisations with international computer networks will reach it without hindrance.
This is because some multinational organisations send web traffic from locations in several countries through one connection with the public internet. This means that for website operators, all that organisation's staff appear to be located in the country with the connection, regardless of their actual location.
Internet service provider AOL similarly uses a US connection for its UK customers. However, Phil Hale, a spokesman for AOL UK, says the company tells some website owners how to derive the country of AOL customers - although not their full address - such as for preventing American users from accessing European gaming websites, to comply with US legislation. AOL was not able to confirm whether the New York Times uses this system.
The technology used to block the article is normally employed by the New York Times to display UK advertising to British users. Richard Clayton, an internet expert at Cambridge University's Computer Laboratory, says the available methods are accurate enough for advertising, but cannot be depended upon. "Anything involving trace-routing on the internet is a best efforts, 99% reliable thing," he says. "It's not terribly good for a court of law."
A spokeswoman for the BBC's online operation said the internet protocol address of a user - the simplest way in which a website can derive his or her location - provides "a good gauge" of where users are located, and is accurate 90% of the time.
Internet service providers can usually locate individual users with accuracy, such as through the telephone number used for connecting or the address of a payment card, but they normally require a legally binding request to do so.
The New York Times' restriction can be also circumvented through online services designed to provide anonymous web surfing, such as the free US-based website the-cloak.com. Such services substitute the end user's internet protocol address for that of the provider, with the aim of enhancing user privacy.
The article has also been republished unofficially on several sites. as a web search will reveal, as well as in edited form by the Toronto Star in Canada, apparently without blocking technology.
UK readers blocked from NY Times terror article
Tuesday August 29, 2006
The New York Times has blocked British readers from accessing an article published in the US about the alleged London bomb plot for fear of breaching the UK's contempt of court laws.Published in the US yesterday under the headline "Details emerge in British terror case", the article claims to reveal new information about the alleged terror bomb plot that brought British airports to a standstill earlier this month.
Online access to the article from the UK has been blocked and the shipment of yesterday's paper to London was stopped. The story was also omitted from the International Herald Tribune, the NYT's European sister paper.
The article purports to contain new information about Scotland Yard's surveillance of the alleged plotters and the subsequent police operation which resulted in the arrest of 24 suspects.
The claims in the article are based on testimonies from "British officials and others briefed on the evidence, all of whom spoke on condition of anonymity, citing British rules on confidentiality regarding criminal prosecutions" with six reporters contributing to the piece from New York, Washington and Pakistan.
Anyone from the UK attempting to read the article via the New York Times website is met with the message: "This Article Is Unavailable. On advice of legal counsel, this article is unavailable to readers of nytimes.com in Britain. This arises from the requirement in British law that prohibits publication of prejudicial information about the defendants prior to trial. "
It is believed to be the first time that the paper has stopped British readers accessing one of its articles because of worries about UK law.
Earlier this month, the home secretary, John Reid, and the attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, issued a joint warning to the media to avoid coverage of the current terror investigations which might prejudice future trials. The statement threatened possible contempt proceedings against publications that failed to show appropriate "restraint". Mr Reid took the unusual step of seeking the attorney general's legal advice before publicising details of the alleged plot.
Because of the "exceptional" nature of the allegations, it was agreed he could reveal a significant amount of information surrounding the arrests of the 24 suspects.
The New York Times has been contacted by MediaGuardian.co.uk but had not responded by the time of publication. Jill Abramson, a managing editor at the paper, said: "It's never a happy choice to deny any reader a story. But this was preferable to not having it on the web at all."
"I think we have to take every case on its own facts," said George Freeman, vice president and assistant general counsel of the New York Times Company. "But we're dealing with a country [the UK] that, while it doesn't have a First Amendment, it does have a free press, and it's our position that we ought to respect that country's laws."
While shelving the print versions of the article in Britain was straightforward, the issue of the publication on the web was more complicated, said the newspaper in an article published online today.
Richard J. Meislin, the paper's associate managing editor for internet publishing, said it used the paper's online advertising technology to discern the internet address of users connecting to the site.
· To contact the MediaGuardian newsdesk email email@example.com or phone 020 7239 9857
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