While I'm waiting for my flight back to California in Calgary airport (YYV), I've been taking advantage of the free (as in free beer) internet here (yay, thank you Calgary!). But it's not exactly free as in free speech: even Wikipedia is censored. While viewing biographical articles recently nominated for deletion on Wikipedia (as I often do) I was unable to view one of the articles that (judging from the censorship message and the deletion discussion) was for an actress of the adult variety. Because of this, I was prevented from taking part in the deletion discussion, a highly legitimate use of internet services. I suspect that whatever filtering is happening is keyword based rather than url based, because I can't imagine that someone has set up url-based filters for every deservedly obscure Wikipedia article on off-color topics.

In the US, I suspect that such censorship in a government facility couldn't legally continue if challenged, but I have no idea how the corresponding Canadian laws work. And in this particular case, I suspect I could have broken through the censorship with my campus VPN if I really cared to, and it's unlikely I would have cared to participate in that particular discussion, so it's more a question of principle than practicality to me. Regardless, I see it as a bit of a worrisome sign: in a future in which non-paid wireless internet is ubiquitous, will we still have free speech?


mchllbrt: Free internet?

Surely this is a troll?

Firstly, I don't think the Calgary Airport Authority is a branch of the Canadian government.

Secondly, "he who pays the piper calls the tune". You are being offered access to a free service -- and this service carries certain limitations. Where's the problem?

Yes, if we reach the point where ubiquitous wireless is provided free as a public service, by public organisations, then it will become important to ensure that such services do not restrict freedoms, but that's a completely different scenario.

The closest (if fanciful) analogy I can think of for this, is that you would object to some philanthropist founding a library which allowed public access if a condition of the foundation were that the library didn't stock any books on computer science.

11011110: Re: Free internet?

The airport authority is a private non-profit, according to this, but the airport still appears to be government land.

And if there were some threat of philanthropic non-CS libraries crowding out any library that dared to carry CS then yes, I would see that as a problem.


I recommend Access Denied: The Practice and Policy of Global Internet Filtering for an interesting discussion of these issues. The gist that I got from reading it was that the answer was the the Internet free-speech experience in a given country is tending, over time, to converge to the offline free-speech experience in a given country. But that's a pretty broad approximation of what they say.

Thanks for the link; that looks like an interesting book.
None: Why not everywhere?

To me, the more interesting question is this: why isn't free WLAN a standard service at all airports? All other things being more or less equal, I might even choose my flights based on whether I have a connection through an airport with free WLAN or not.

Regarding the Calgary airport WLAN: I didn't try to use any kind of VPN, but I was happy to notice that SSH connections were allowed. You can use an SSH tunnel to use a web proxy at your own university, to avoid any censorship. I think this kind of loopholes are intentional: If you access questionable content, then it will be the headache of your own university instead of YYC, as all traces point in that direction. So YYC shouldn't have any reason to mind if you circumvent censorship this way.

11011110: Re: Why not everywhere?

The biggest problem at Calgary was the lack of power outlets — I only saw four of them (that is, two two-outlet pairs) available at the gate I was sitting at. In comparison, my local airport, Orange County, now has large banks of power outlets available, but doesn't have free WIFI. I guess if I had to choose one or the other I'd choose the WIFI but both are important.

The question is whether they're censoring to avoid responsibility for carrying the content or to prevent exposing other people near the computer user from seeing questionable content. If they're trying to control the public experience, I can see some value in that (I'd prefer not to have a situation such as the one depicted in Lost in Translation where people are openly viewing porn on a crowded subway), but if they applied that philosophy consistently they would close the loophole too. On the other hand, if it's a question of avoiding responsibility for carrying the content, the US common carrier rules make it safer not to filter (if one filters, one is not a common carrier) but again I have no idea whether Canadian law is analogous.