The York Council has blocked residents from accessing what it considers to be unsavoury internet sites.
These are not the sites that you might expect.
The move is not aimed at hard core porn, gamblng or terrorism sites.
The Council has taken the steps to block residents from accessing “payday” loan web sites.
In a media release it says, “In a bid to protect residents from payday loans websites and the risks of spiralling debt from high interest providers, City of York Council has blocked these companies from its staff and public wi-fi and computers and is encouraging use of more reputable financial solutions.
Computers for customer use at all City of York Council libraries and Explore centres and at West Offices now do not give access to payday lender sites, “some of which charge exorbitant interest rates”.
The Council has not published a list of the companies that it considers to be exploitive.
In addition, the council’s extensive free wi-fi provision is blocking these sites at its libraries and West Offices, at Energise and in the city centre around St Helen’s Square and along Coney Street.
Instead, York’s libraries are going to “support promoting of local credit unions which support savers and borrowers who have difficulty accessing high street banking options“.
The North Yorkshire Credit Union, however, went bust last year and its replacement is only just finding its feet in the City.
“In March, the council launched the free ‘Small Changes’ booklet on how to manage money and make it go further. Published in association with York Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) and Aviva, it includes tips on budgeting, ways to cut costs, savings and insurance essentials and hints on how to avoid getting into debt. Also, there are lots of ideas on how to enjoy life in York without having to spend too much money, including low cost family days out, free events and courses”.
As usual there was no consultation with users before the Council took the decision (behind closed doors) to censor the internet access available to its citizens.
Many, while sharing the Council concern about unscrupulous lenders, may consider the step to be an unfortunate precedent; bordering on an infringement of civil liberties.
There is a fine line to be drawn between a genuine wish to ensure that consumers are protected and a patronising, nanny Council, approach.