University College London Hospital wifi firewall blocks access to PinkNews using ‘sexuality’ category

PinkNews logo with white background and rainbow corners

The University College London Hospital (UCLH) wifi firewall blocks access to LGBT news sites such as PinkNews, based on a category called “sexuality sites”.

The wifi, provided by WifiSpark, includes a filtering system, which this week was blocking access to PinkNews and Towleroad.

Speaking to PinkNews, a WifiSpark spokesperson said the company would look into the block “if this is a wider issue”, but that the company could not comment further.

The category used to block LGBT sites was described as intended to block “sites that provide information, images or implications of bondage, sadism, masochism, fetish, beating, body piercing or self-mutilation.”

On the fact that the category was possibly in breach of the Equality Act, the spokesperson offered to whitelist PinkNews. When asked the difference between ‘sexuality sites’ and pornography, she said she could not comment.

The spokesperson said the filtering system was provided by OpenDNS, and that WifiSpark would raise the issue with them.

She also said UCLH would have been talked through the various categories on signing up to the service, and would have been given the chance to opt-in to that specific category.

Users in the US on the OpenDNS forums had complained that sites such as GLSEN and dignityusa, a Catholic gay support network, had been blocked using the same category.

Earlier this week. internet security provider Norton, responded to criticism of a firewall category named ‘Sexual Orientation’, which had blocked the public from accessing sites such as PinkNews and Stonewall in public spaces, to remove it.

Some franchised branches of coffee giant Costa used the firewall to block such sites under a category named ‘Sexual Orientation’.

In a radio debate with Costa Coffee Managing Director Jason Cotta, Communities Minister Stephen Williams criticised the firewall, and questioned why such a category even existed.

Aid and development charity Oxfam last year responded to a report from PinkNews which found that access to LGBT news sites was being blocked from terminals operated by the charity, to say that it was the result of an automated firewall, and is not company policy.

Update: UCLH responded quickly to clarify its position – staff were not aware of the block, which has now been removed. 

A UCLH spokesman told PinkNews: “We would like to thank Pink News for drawing this to our attention – clearly this is a website which should be available to all of our patients, guests and staff. We have addressed this issue immediately and the site will be available to our WiFi users with immediate effect.”