Like many major, complex, modern organisations, the Houses of the Oireachtas has its own IT networks, writes Daniel McConnell.
With hundreds of people working within it, the organisation is required to operate with its own strict firewall and protocols. What this means in layman’s terms, is that the authorities have put in place very rigid and rigorous controls as to what people are allowed search for on their computers.
Those hundreds of people include TDs, senators, their staff, journalists, civil servants, security staff, porters and caterers. All of whom require access to the internet on a daily basis to perform various tasks. Given it is the national parliament, the list of restricted sites to which searches will be blocked is considerable.
But, today, the Irish Examiner reveals the details of websites blocked by the Oireachtas system since last September. According to the Oireachtas, the system blocks all attempts at banned websites. Sites are blocked based on the category assigned to it by its software ie pornography, extreme, incidental nudity, nudity, profanity, sexual materials and others.
The list of sites blocked released to this paper is vast, fascinating, curious and in some instances, alarming. The most blocked site was data analytics site ping.chartbeat.net with a total of 116,900 hit attempts. The Oireachtas has said:
So, it is clear that virtually every site searched is being tracked and such systems pose a threat to the security of the Oireachtas network and therefore are blocked. The second most blocked site related to Google push notifications which have been disabled by the network. The third most blocked site was Youtube.com, the popular video streaming website.
The Oireachtas said it is “our office policy within the Houses of the Oireachtas is that staff have to seek approval to access YouTube”. Predictably enough, given many politicians love their horse racing, many of the site searches blocked by the Oireachtas include sport websites, sport betting websites and other online gambling sites.
Leading bookmaker, gambling and racing websites like Paddypower.com, betfair.com, racingtv.com, pokerstars.eu, irishracing.com, brucebetting.com, bet365.com, goracing.ie and lottowinonline.com feature on the list.
They say politics can be a lonely business but the most shocking entry to show up was the site loversire.com, a site which offers very expensive life-sized sex dolls to clients.
Records show this site was searched for a few times since last September. Trading since 2014, the Loversire company boasts a factory of 30,000 sq ft and more than 260 employees. Billed as “luxury, realistic sex dolls, soft material, realistic size,” the top of the range dolls on offer cost up to US$2,000.
“Our vision is to create a better sex life for the many people,” the site boasts.
But life-sized sex dolls are not the only curious item searched for and blocked by the Oireachtas network. Several searches for high-end lingerie products were included with victoriassecret.com and lingerieoutletstore.co.uk featuring among the sites blocked.
A large number of sites for weapons including knives and guns also show up on the blocked list. They included barlow-knives.com, allaboutpocketknives.com, roughriderknives.com, knivesplus.com and www.gunsamerica.com.
Disturbingly, alongside those entries for weapons were several searches for assassination-related materials. The list shows that assassinationresearch.com was searched for numerous times but was blocked. But it seems too the Oireachtas has its fair share of online gamers who were blocked in their attempts to access sites relating to their game consoles.
Sites including account.xbox.com, compass.xboxlive.com and pcgamesn.com showed up among those blocked by the firewall. While many depraved things were rightly blocked by the network, some curious and very benign sites were also blocked.
For example a local eatery, the website belonging to the Ely Wine Bar on Ely Place fell foul of the censors as did a search for Latin masses in Ireland. One of the other curious sites blocked was Offaly.ie. Who knew the county could be such a threat to the system?