SonicWALL – Web Site Blocked

You wouldn’t be surprised to see this message in a high school computer lab. You may even catch this at your local library. But when you see it on your own laptop while surfing the web from the waiting room of a private business, you may start to wonder. What is the responsibility of private business owners who provide free internet access to customers when it comes to content filtering?

This site is blocked by the SonicWALL Content Filter Service.

Reason for restriction: Administrative Custom List settings

I see two possible motivations for filtering content using a hardware-based firewall in the waiting room scenario. The first of those is bandwidth conservation. Certainly disallowing downloads of files exceeding a certain size and blocking non-HTTP ports would preserve bandwidth. Preventing this kind of downloading may also help stave off virus infiltration by blocking infected machines from transmitting the virus to/from other computers. And let’s be honest, nobody needs to be using BitTorrent to download/upload their favorite pirated films/songs/pictures while they sit in a waiting room or other public space.

I am less understanding of the second kind of filtering: that relating to content alone. SonicWALL firewalls, along with others in the same class, allow administrators to specify one or more keywords that are not allowed. In addition to blocking known spam/porn/treasonous websites by URL, this allows the firewall to block based solely on the keywords entered.

Life is full of dual-use words, and the mere presence of a word does not automatically go to the topic of the website. Unfortunately the text “Administrative Custom List settings” offers no detail as to the word in question, but I am left to wonder why accessing TurboTax (I’m trying to get a jump on my taxes by studying products now) is so scandalous. Businesses who filter their public internet connections should consider that doing so sends a message to customers: We don’t trust your judgment.

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