Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Inside BC Ferries' wireless service

A few months ago I had the displeasure of finding out that the BC Ferries public wireless service was locked down so harshly that I found it almost un-useable for what I needed to do. Being that the corporation was once-again subject to the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, I opted that instead of griping without anything to base the gripes on that I'd dig up information about how it was implemented and discuss it here.

To make this simple to why I wanted to know these things: I was unhappy over the fact that I couldn't use a private means of browsing. What I mean is that it is quite silly to browse the Internet or use any services without the use of a secure tunnel when you're on a network that is completely unfamiliar to you. Things like Firesheep make it easy for others to hijack your browser sessions and give you a headache. I am not worried about someone looking over my shoulder and seeing what I am doing but I am concerned about someone taking control.

Overall, wireless is very insecure by nature and BC Ferries was not making it better.

With a few dollars spent and some patience, I finally received this letter in my inbox:

Dear Mr. Keigher:

Re: Request under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act

I am responding to your request of December 6, 2011 under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIPP Act).

You requested:

The following information regarding the wireless service provided by BC Ferries:

  • List of web sites and or web site categories blocked by your web content filtering system

  • List of network service ports blocked or filtered

  • Reasons for the above decisions

  • E-mail communication regarding the implementation of the service

  • Any documentation of specifications requested.

Further to our January 25, 2011 letter to you, we are giving a third party the opportunity to make representations concerning the disclosure of two of these documents.

Enclosed please find copies of the remainder of the records responsive to your request. The Information Technology division and Public Affairs department were consulted to identify records responsive to your request.

Some of the records contain information excepted from disclosure under the FOIPP Act. This information was severed so the remaining information could be disclosed.

The severed information is excepted from disclosure under sections 13, 14, 15, 17 and 22 of the FOIPP Act. In particular:

  • One occurrence of information was withheld under section 13 as disclosure would reveal a recommendation to BC Ferries.

  • One occurrence of information was severed under section 14 as subject to solicitor-client privilege.

  • One occurance of information has been withheld under sections 15 and 17 where disclosure could reasonably be expected to harm the security of a computer system and disclosure could reasonably be expected to harm the financial interests of BC Ferries.

  • Third party personal information was severed under section 22 where disclosure would be an unreasonable invasion of personal privacy.

The rest goes on about payment and so forth.

A few days ago, a letter arrived in the mail informing me that a portion of the request has been delayed as they were awaiting the third party. I was informed that a response would be made one way or the other by March 8th.

Here's the technical run down on what is not being blocked by BC Ferries:


What does this mean if you don't understand the above? Basically you can browse and send e-mail. There is more to it than just that but for the average person the above will let you go on Facebook and check out your Hotmail or GMail.

According to their web filtering software, they block the following kinds of websites:

  • Adult

  • Child pornography

  • File transfer services

  • Filter avoidance

  • Hate speech

  • Illegal activities

  • Non-sexual nudity

  • Peer file transfer

  • Pornography

  • Sexual education and abortion

  • Streaming media

  • Tasteless or obscene

Likely my website will begin to fall under "filter avoidance" because of this post, but one has to wonder why they'd be blocking sexual education and abortion on their service. Well, I didn't need to inquire about this as The Vancouver Sun did this for me based on my FOIPP request:

BC Ferries spokeswoman Deborah Marshall said the ferry corporation decided to block such material because it feared websites about abortion or sex education might contain inappropriate photos.

"There might be pictures and whatnot on some of these sites," said Marshall. "We do have to remember that we are a family venue and that there might be some parents who might be offended by their children seeing such pictures."

I am glad to know that BC Ferries will act as a moderator in a person's life!

The rest of the released documents aren't terribly interesting. The only thing of note was that there was a delay in launch and some miscommunication during the process of getting things set up and implemented, but that is all par for the course for any organization.

Update - February 3rd

Wow. This got a bit more coverage that I anticipated. To be quite honest, I only did this to find out how they were blocking everything and what their reasons were to do so.

I never really expected to find out that BC Ferries would be blocking abortion and sexual health on their service but I am disappointed to find that being the case. The response given by the corporation is beyond lackluster and to me demonstrates that they're imposing their own version of morality when it is not their place to do so.

Overall how they have gone about building this service is pretty pitiful. I could have done a better job configuring this all without resorting to the asinine methods used to prevent bandwidth abuse. I'd hate to imagine how much they paid to some consultant over the service's implementation.

I finally received the parts regarding the third party. To no surprise TELUS provides a 3G connection to the boats and to make things more interesting the implementation delay was caused by shipment problems caused by the G8 and G20 conferences. I have since uploaded the file containing the communications between BC Ferries and TELUS.

Here's some coverage on the matter. I haven't been contacted by any media outlet over the matter but I am glad to see that this is getting some press.

Download the documents:
2010-118 responsive records batch #1.pdf (1.2 MB PDF)
2010-118 responsive records batch #2.pdf (2.1 MB PDF)
2010-118 responsive records batch #3.pdf (1.2 MB PDF)
2010-118 responsive records batch #3.pdf (153 KB PDF)

Originals can be found here:
FOIPP Request 10-118