Interior Department blocks access to blogs

After an inspector general’s report earlier this month revealed Interior Department employees were wasting time at work on auction, gaming, pornography and online gambling sites, the department hastily implemented blocking — of blogs.

“People shouldn’t be having access to blogs — at least on government computers on government time,” spokesman Frank Quimby told Federal Times.

And they should have access to gambling and pornography sites?!

But that’s not all. For the last couple of weeks, employees have been complaining that only conservative blogs were blocked, while liberal blogs could be accessed just fine.

Baron Bodissey did some great investigative work trying to get to the bottom of this after one of his readers emailed him about the blockage. Department spokespeople stonewalled him while employees continued to come forward saying they couldn’t access conservative blogs. He finally found out that the network administrator at DOI is an idiot (I’m not at all surprised) and that the department is running some of the worst filtering software they could find in its haste to do something.

I consulted a network expert, a friend of mine named Joe who runs his own consulting company. He’s very familiar with internet filtering software, and he also has extensive experience with network administration.

“Here’s what happened,” he said. “The department started blocking certain categories of websites, and then made a list of exceptions that would be allowed through the filter. That’s a long list, and it would be passed down the food chain from the Network Administrator through his subordinates until it reached the poor schmoe at the bottom of the heap who would have to do all the data entry to list the exceptions.

“Now imagine this guy: he just happens to be a left-winger, and likes to hang out at Daily Kos and Atrios during his downtime. He realizes that [he] won’t be able to do that any more, so he adds his favorite sites to the list of exceptions, and then that he can continue with his recreational reading.

“He thinks that nobody will notice, or that his superiors are too stupid to ever figure it out. In any case, it never occurs to him that there are conservatives at DOI who will notice and object.”

I like this explanation. It’s simple, it’s elegant, and it satisfies Occam’s razor. It posits the least amount of conspiracy — at most, a couple of flunkies in the basement of DOI taking action on their own behalf — and it doesn’t require that my sources be liars. — Politics Central

Quimby denied that any requests had come through to unblock specific sites: “While the department’s system administrator has the capability to unblock a site by making a request to the vendor to remove a specific site from the blocked list, that is a formal process that is logged and audited. No such requests have been made on this subject.”

Quimby, however, won’t have to live by the rules, it seems.

Employees who need acess to certain Web sites to do their jobs will be able to request it via boxes that pop up when they try to visit blocked sites, Quimby said. He noted, for instance, that his office needs to be able to read blogs, along with other media sites, “and we assume that we will be granted that access.”

Quimby said the majority of employees will continue to be blocked from accessing blogs because they are not needed for work. He also said that blogs initially have been blocked as a category because some of them contain hate speech, sexually explicit language and other “inappropriate” content, but the department still has not yet firmly established what sites fall into the blog category.

“There’s a lot of surprise and some chagrin, and a lot of employees are upset,” Quimby said of the revised policy.

Ironically, the department implemented software filters on its computers because of employees who had abused Internet privileges — like the one who apparently spent time on the government dime trying to read blocked blogs and then complaining to bloggers who would listen. — Beltway Blogroll

Chief information officer W. Hord Tipton tried to make light of the situation, and revealed the depth of his ignorance about blogs.

“Blogs just scare the pants off me, particularly when Interior people want to launch blogs and take ownership of those types of things.” he said. “We don’t allow people to go to blogs unless we know where they are, who they are and what have you.”

He also noted that bloggers have reacted angrily to the blog ban, which applies to all but about 100 sites for now. One blogger even created an image that featured Interior’s logo and the word “BANNED!” “These bloggers are a pretty vicious group,” Tipton said jokingly. — Beltway Blogroll

Vicious? Oh, sure, we can be sometimes. Especially when, as in your case, it’s well justified.

Federal Computer Week noted that the new version of Lotus Notes rolled out October 11 includes integrated blogging capabilities. Oh, the irony!

Persons affected by the block can use anti-censorship activist Bennett Haselton’s Circumventor to bypass the block and read affected sites.

(If you can confirm whether Homeland Stupidity is blocked, please write. At least two DOI employees have accessed this site from work today, but that doesn’t mean that others can’t.)