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Originally published March 5, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified March 5, 2008 at 2:02 PM

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Denver airport Wi-Fi blocks popular magazine Web sites

Denver airport Wi-Fi stops travelers from seeing Web sites of Vanity Fair, Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue and David Byrne of Talking Heads denounces the Internet blocking

The Denver Post

DENVER — Want to browse Vanity Fair magazine on the Denver airport's free Wi-Fi system? Sorry. You'll have to buy it at the newsstand, because Denver International Airport's Internet filter blocks Vanity Fair as "provocative."

Nor can you get to the popular gossip column perezhilton.com on the Denver airport's Wi-Fi signal. Or the hipster-geek favorite boingboing.net. Or the Sports Illustrated swimsuit photos, even though the magazine's bare-breasted cover shot is on prominent display at airport stores, right next to Penthouse and Hustler.

Airport officials are erring on the side of caution in blocking access to certain sites through the free Internet browser offered to travelers. They say they're using prudent judgment in a public, family-friendly atmosphere.

But others see it as a form of cyber censorship that taints Denver's self-portrayal as a progressive city.

"Give people some credit," said David Byrne, founder of the legendary art-rock band Talking Heads, who was blocked from boingboing.net while connecting through Denver to an Aspen workshop last month. "And the more credit you give them, the more they respond. It's just trusting people's discretion."

Critics, like boingboing.net editor Xeni Jardin and others, point out that Denver uses the same kinds of software filters employed by the repressive regimes of the Sudan and Kuwait.

Jardin is tired of her tech-update site getting blocked by private and government filters just because it occasionally posts respected artworks that might include nudity.

"This gets to the heart of what the Internet is all about, and whose responsibility it is," said Jardin, who is based in California. "It seems particularly unfortunate that something as symbolic as the city's airport, a gateway to culture, commerce and the flow of ideas, would be blocked in such a fundamental way.

Airport spokesman Chuck Cannon said the telecom office decided to use Webwasher's filtering system when it went from a paid service to free public Wi-Fi in November.

Officials preferred to deal with infrequent blocking complaints rather than angry parents whose children walked by a screen showing pornography, Cannon said.

With more than 4,000 Wi-Fi connections a day the airport has received only two formal blocking complaints so far, he said. The filtering software appears to be blocking less than 1 percent of 1.7 million Web page requests a day.

As for Sports Illustrated being available at newsstands but not on Wi-Fi, Cannon said, "That's a little different than pornography, though I guess others may disagree."

Byrne said he appreciated Denver airport offering Wi-Fi for free, a perk he doesn't get at all hotels or airports. But his amused blogging about the block at Denver was picked up and passed around the Internet by other techno-savvy writers.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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