David Byrne: I was BoingBoing-blocked at Denver airport.

All of us here at Boing Boing idolize David Byrne -- so reading this post today on his blog is, for us, like a rainbow unicorn delivering a giant vanilla cupcake with a million sprinkles of awesome on top.

Mr. Byrne wrote:

There’s free Wi-Fi at the Denver airport, which is a nice, sensible touch. But to my surprise, one of my habitual surfing sites has been blocked. I’m not totally shocked that alleged nudity might be blocked (if there is nudity on the Boing Boing site it’s pretty rare and likely to be arty or ironic), but I’m perplexed by the implication that all blogs and wiki sites are suspect!


Back in NYC however, Danielle explains that not all blogs and wikis are blocked, just those filtered by Secure Computing’s web censorware product called SmartFilter. According to Boing Boing co-editor Xeni Jardin,

“[…]SmartFilter isn't very smart. Secure Computing classifies any site with any nudity – even Michaelangelo's David appearing on a single page out of thousands – as a ‘nudity’ site, which means that customers who block ‘nudity’ can't get through." (see blog post here)

Turns out, Secure Computing and other similar companies have sold their products to government-controlled monopoly Internet providers in places like Kuwait, Oman, and Sudan to name a few, effectively blocking access to filtered sites – like Boing Boing – for entire countries. Xeni wrote an op-ed in the NY Times on the issue, which you can find here.

Link. (thanks, Danielle Spencer)


  1. reading this post today on his blog is, for us, like a rainbow unicorn delivering a giant vanilla cupcake with a million sprinkles of awesome on top

    It made you that sick? ;)

  2. Mr. Byrne needs a VPN! It’s sort of staggering he doesn’t have one, given his clear sophistication and his helpful friends and colleagues. This lets you bypass filters, since you’re surfing out wherever your VPN terminates its tunnel.

    Otherwise he’s just…Naked.

    WiTopia’s personalVPN is $40 per month, and secures data over the local link. I’ve been using their service for years, and they seem like upstanding individuals. (witopia.net)

    You may ask yourself: how did he not get here?

  3. I’m continually reminded of just how cool David Byrne is. True Stories is my favorite movie in the whole, wide world.

    Under the category of “if you don’t like something, change it,” how precisely would that work in this context? The filter company has a right to market a service, even if we don’t agree with their classifications.

    Their clients are the ones who are demanding the filtering, and if my business were providing net access in a public space, I would certainly reserve the right to filter it too, for various reasons.

    In my opinion, the only course of action here (aside from reporting your displeasure to the previous two organizations) is to start a competing filter company with a more subtle approach to classification, and compete in the marketplace. Am I wrong?

  4. Byrne should be on a VPN.

    That said, I sometimes find that my net access is filtered if I’m trying to get to a gun manufacturer or discussion website.


    The filtering software is being used in the ‘free’ wifi provided at the Denver Airport. The city of Denver has control of basically all aspects of operations at the airport, and so their decision to filter is a question of official government censorship.

    This is not a reasonable ‘time place or manner’ restriction, it is a blatant government violation of the First Amendment.

  6. Rather than paying $40 a month for a VPN, roll your own with iPig (the server, free for up to 5 users, can run on your home machine).

  7. @#6: “This is not a reasonable ‘time place or manner’ restriction, it is a blatant government violation of the First Amendment.”

    This. The government is not allowed to do this; hello, EFF?

    Also, I don’t know about DIA, but the “free WiFi” service in PHX doesn’t permit VPN connections.

  8. David Byrne is a really, really nice person. I met him when I was all of 17 years old. It was 1983 in Vancouver. The Talking Heads were on their Burning Down the House tour, really at the height of their success. My friends and I had backstage passes, and he came up and said, “Your friend (local journalist) said you are really nice guys. I thought say ‘hello.'” We asked him where he got that really big suit. He talked to us for quite a while. We were then invited to the backstage party.

    As it happened, I had scored some really kick-ass ganja that week in Seattle (pot wasn’t as consistent in quality back then) which I left at home that night as I was driving my parents’ car. Tina Weymouth was complaining that they had to throw out all their pot before crossing the border on their bus and asked if we had any–what a missed opportunity!

    In my subsequent career, I’ve been lucky enough to have the opportunity to meet many famous musicians. Mr. Byrne has always stuck in my head as one of the nicest, most real, most devoid of all the trappings of celebrity–sort of the standard by which I grew to hate many others. That’s really saying something, believe me. Don’t knock the guy because of his lack of Wi-Fi technical prowess. I’m sure he could kick your asses on Logic Pro, not to mention his encyclopedic knowledge of popular music–not to mention he’s written some killer songs.

    Leave David Byrne alone!

  9. Panera’s free wifi blocks Modern Drunkard.

    Yeah I didn’t have much else to add to this thread because I have half a bottle of John Jameson in me… but I was also drunk enough to decide that it was worth pointing out in the first place.


  10. Well, if Byrne got sponsored by Windows Mobile, he could just bypass the filter by chaining his laptop to his Windows Mobile Device, right?

  11. SmartFilter’s criteria are ridiculous – my employer uses one of their products.

    I’ve set up clean WordPress installs for static sites (using the popular blogging tool as a content management system), and found that they were automatically blocked, even with innocuous domain names and zero content. They block on the basis of backend software (probably as disclosed by the meta generator= tag), which strikes me as just silly.

    I’m sure they filter because they’re afraid someone will sue. Has anyone actually done this, though – said “you provided me with access to the internet, and now my eyeballs hurt!”?

  12. Shame on whoever blocked Boing Boing and stopped David Byrne from getting his digital dose of wonderful goodies..

    you dirty filthy bastards…

  13. had to be that racy Meanest Man Contest video.

    David Byrne gave a concert in Toronto, maybe 5 years ago. It was a big deal for me, since I`d never heard him live, but had loved Talking Heads since I was like 11 or 12. Very moving – despite the fact that throughout the whole concert this satanically drunk woman kept yelling out “DAVID! YOU`RE READING MY DIARY!`and “STOP READING MY DIARY“. She had stamina, that woman. I think she enjoyed herself, too.

  14. I love the fact that Panera’s filter keeps me from reading about poker, but I can still play poker on full tilt and pokerstars just fine.

  15. I love the fact that it says “The following reputation level was assigned to it: Neutral”

    It’s NEUTRAL! Better block it then! Can’t be too sure in this world!

    I could tell you a story about David Byrne told to me by a friend of a friend. But it’s far too filthy and shocking for BoingBoing. Tut, tut, David.

  16. Not only do we want information to be free, but we want it Free everywhere and when we want it. I have a feeling that if it is found that Americans have the right to access the web free, and without restrictions in public places, that the filters would be removed. Can a solid case be made (yet) that wifi is a “Right” that we should get for free? I doubt it. TNSTAAFL.

  17. My friend Neil got to open for David Byrne in 2001 when Chocolate Genius was stuck in NYC. David hung out with Neil’s band a while and invited them to go with them and open their next show. Is it reasonable to idolize someone by proxy?

    By the way, the ’01 Byrne show was the single best concert I’ve ever been to. It was very low key, but him and his band looked like they were having the time of their life, and it shone through their music and everything.

    It got truly surreal when the local radio station had him hand out bowling trophies .. what? Mr. Byrne looked as bemused as the rest of us were confused.

  18. I ran into this same problem in London-Heathrow. I tried logging into my newly created blog to make an entry, but no such luck. Blocked! My page was categorized as a high risk porn site. Guess that single entry and a picture of an elephant was more than the filter could handle; if it was even bothering to filter the content at all. The entire domain was probably blocked out of laziness an inability to code competent software.

  19. VPN? for crying out loud – give it a rest already.

    Somebody go into the magazine vendor in the Denver Airport and pull an issue of Maxim off the rack. Then ask the censors why you can buy this titty mag in the airport but you can’t read BoingBoing.

  20. I read Byrne regularly and he always mentions “C”, is this photographer Cindy Sherman? They seem like a good match…

  21. Jeff, is paying tax money then having that tax money used to pay for public WiFi free?

    The SmartFilter service itself also isn’t free – that’s paid for with tax money. The very taxes that the people using the WiFi have paid.

  22. @#6, #32: “This is not a reasonable ‘time place or manner’ restriction, it is a blatant government violation of the First Amendment.”

    Then the solution is obvious: eliminate the service altogether.

    Then the airport can contract with a third-party company to come in and offer a fee-based system. At that point it will be a private party transaction without any first amendment implications.

    Everybody wins, right? Right?

  23. Dcul…Doesn’t anyone use a real name here? Geez!
    Your taxes go for libraries, but many have filters on the computers that the public can use. Should the web be free when the wifi is being paid for by tax money? In theory, yes. Now, do you want the guy sitting next to you and your kid to access Wetsluts.com and watch some quality porn? I’m glad when all the options are not there for the kind of freaks one has to be around in public places. But I think this will change and the ACLU will fight for total access as long as it’s paid for by public tax.

  24. You should have seen some of the horrible things I *was* able to look at last time I used DIA’s wi-fi. I mean, really horrible, filthy things. Blocking Boing-Boing makes no sense.

    Also, to #6, there is virtually no such thing as a “blatant” violation of the First Amendment. But you could make a pretty good argument on this one.

    I [heart] David Byrne.

  25. David Byrne is a smart, nice guy for sure, but he’s just that, not an object of worship by a long stretch. I care no more about this one than if he were to write something about the consistency of his bowel movements.

  26. Downpressor, you’re being a dink. How about checking the consistency of my bowel movements for me instead of commenting thusly?

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