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.