Thursday, January 17, 2008

No Blogs For You?

Update: You can see my Channel 4 Action News report on this here. I spoke with Mayor Ravenstahl, his Press Secretary Alecia Sirk, city CIS Director Howard Stern, and Bram Reichbaum of the Pittsburgh Comet. The city officials laid out their case for this website blocking being the result of an update of their previously installed computer security software, and not a new program targeting blogs by content. They were gracious about my "No Blogs For You" post which appears below. (Of course, given the blog-blocking software, they might not have read it yet.) Now, my original post:

The PG's Early Returns reports that City of Pittsburgh government employees are now blocked from reading many popular blogs dealing with local politics. It says "the city's Internet security provider, Websense Enterprise, recently updated its settings to eliminate access to "social networking and personal sites". That would appear to include this blog. City employees, please confirm, if you can?

The story prompted me to do some googling about government blocking of access to websites.

• It seems that China, Iran, and Uzbekistan are among more than two dozen countries now blocking web content, says the Economist.

Civil liberties: freedom of speech
The tongue twisters

"In a study of the internet in 40 countries (excluding Europe and the United States), OpenNet Initiative, an academic think-tank, says that censorship of the internet has spread from just a handful of countries five years ago to 26 nations. Some—notably China, Iran, Syria, Pakistan, Tunisia, Vietnam and Uzbekistan—are now blocking entire internet services such as YouTube, Skype and Google Maps."

Defense News reports that the United States Government is trying to help free the flow of internet information to closed societies like China and Iran.

U.S. Launches Internet Anti-Censorship Effort

The U.S. Congress is funding a modest assault on the great firewall of China.
The newly approved budget for the U.S. State Department includes $15 million for developing “anti-censorship tools and services” which could help Internet users breach electronic firewalls set up by China, Iran and other “closed societies.”

• The Washington Post reports that a re-energized Kremlin is now getting into the act.

Kremlin Seeks To Extend Its Reach in Cyberspace
Pro-Government Sites Gain Influence

MOSCOW -- After ignoring the Internet for years to focus on controlling traditional media such as television and newspapers, the Kremlin and its allies are turning their attention to cyberspace, which remains a haven for critical reporting and vibrant discussion in Russia's dwindling public sphere.

Back to the PG's Early Returns:

City computer supercop Howard Stern said there was no conscious decision to block the blogs, and that the change in security settings came down, uninvited, from Websense. That said, he agrees with the new blog-proof city system.

"They're untrusted Web sites," he told us. They can transmit viruses, he said, "and that could knock out the whole city."

I'm happy to say that I've never gotten a virus from a blog. Perhaps the new city policy will inspire some "viral marketing"... but that's not anything that will hurt you or your computer.

I can certify that The Busman's Holiday is 100% virus-free.



Bram Reichbaum said...

"The city limits all personal web-browsing for 30 minutes a day." (from your report).

Ah, but what about policy research and analysis? What if you are weighing a vote on a tax issue and want to access the bundled sets of timely research on Nullspace? What, for that matter, if you want to read the Post-Gazette? Is that not work related?

How about Early Returns? Surely not.

Bob Mayo said...

I asked Director Stern. He says the city's software can ration access to specific categories of sites its security software provider considers to be unrelated to work.

Mark Rauterkus said...

This issue boils down to absent management. It would be much better to have managers explore logs and do real 'supervision.'

If someone is screwing up and wasting time -- document it, set some goals and objectives. And, if the behaviors are not as desired -- fire the employee.

Rather than manage and supervise -- they'd block all blogs. Boneheaded move.

Bram Reichbaum said...

This talk of rationing is too much. Being a public official means having to do many and varied things, some specific and some exploratory, changing over time. Public officials should be allowed to access THE INTERNET and leave it at that.

Buy some good virus protection software and keep it updated.

TOR Hershman said...

Blockin' YouTube?!?!?!?!?!?!
How the heck them thar folk
a-gonna get to veiw the Red Rose Monkey Ad?

[NOTE: Ya gotta be old (Chiller Theater ooooold) to remember that one.

Of course, then there's really goofy YouTube films, such as moi's lill' flicks.

Stay on groovin' safari,
Tor (in Wheeling) Hershman