Friday, October 13, 2006

The Federal Times has the DOI Story

The Federal Times has the story about the DOI blocking blog sites:

Department of the InteriorThe Interior Department is blocking access to blogs on government computers after its inspector general found employees were wasting time on pornography, gambling and auction sites.
- - - - - - - - - -
Blogs — Web sites providing regular updates on a variety of topics — are among blocked sites because some include sexually explicit language, libelous or defamatory commentary, and outrageous language, said Frank Quimby, spokesman for the agency.

[…]

“People shouldn’t be having access to blogs — at least on government computers on government time,” Quimby said.

[…]

Some Interior employees complained that only conservative blog sites were being blocked. The news was broken by Gates of Vienna, a conservative political blog. Gates of Vienna posted an e-mail from an Interior employee that listed 15 conservative sites that were blocked and seven liberal blogs that were not blocked. Quimby said a review of access to 22 blogs on Oct. 13 showed that only five of the 15 conservative sites were blocked while two of the seven liberal sites were blocked.

Either way, all blogs will be blocked as the new Internet filters are fully rolled out, Quimby said.

The author, M.Z. Hemingway, notified me of this story by email:

Here we go. You will note that I gave you credit for breaking the story! I also think the story is much more dramatic than it first seemed.

If you want to post this on your blog, you can hyperlink my email address if you’d like: MZHemingway@federaltimes.com

Wouldn’t mind hearing from feds who are affected by this.

I’ll be following up on this in coming weeks.

Hear that, folks? The Federal Times wants to hear from you.

10 comments:

rickl said...

“People shouldn’t be having access to blogs — at least on government computers on government time,” Quimby said.

I really don't have a problem with that. I work in the private sector, and I'm not allowed to watch TV or yak on the phone at work, so why should I be allowed to read blogs?

To put it another way, when I'm at work I'm on my employer's property, using my employer's computer on an internet connection he's paying for. Meanwhile he is paying me to work. If I'm wasting time instead of working, then I'm stealing from him, plain and simple.

If it's government employees doing that, then it's ME they're stealing from.

(I don't mean to sound so high and mighty. I'm only human after all, and I do confess to checking in on the web now and then during the workday. But I try to keep it to a minimum, just checking to see if there are any important breaking news stories. And most of the time I'm simply too busy to do that anyway.)

Epaminondas said...

I am a business owner, and I DO have a problem with it. Very often we eat lunch, or take break RIGHT THERE in the office and if someone wants to read a blog...

THAT
IS
FINE
BY
ME

If you spend hours doing it, THAT's a problem.

Perhaps if the federal government was
a) smaller and efficent
b) tied personal output directly to compensation
workers would self regulate.

Cato said...

Well, you got some ink (digital ink) and that's a very good thing. Maybe some Interior employees will be motivated to seek you out on their own time. In the meantime, I recommend you untwist your knickers.

I agree with others who say that the gummint has the right (i.e. the legitimate power) to limit access to the Internet for their employees. So does my employer, and although they don't exersize it, the Internet allowable use policy is laid out in our official policies.

So, let's give it a rest, pending any real evidence of an anti-VRWC plot. It is apparently not politically inspired despite a quick (and small) sampling. If some sites are accessible while others are not, it is probably not because someone is running a highly sophisticated PC filter on them - it's because selective blocking is very difficult.

I believe them when they say they are trying to block "all blogs" - why on earth would any regular bureaucrat, regardless of his own politics, stick his neck out by implementing a politically discriminatory policy against blogs? They couldn't do it without a paper trail and a lot of help, and they would know it might easily come back to bite them.

Better to adopt what computer security folk call a "whitelist" (as opposed to a blacklist) under which everything is off limits pending appeal. Presumably, the appeal would require one to make the case that access to the site had a legitimate business purpose for the employee.

I know someone who used to work at the LOC and spent hours every day cruising sexually oriented sites and leaving posts with his actual government email address. They were a whole lot laxer in those days.

Get back to work, buffalo gals and guys.

shoprat said...

As long as liberal blogs are also blocked, it is inconvenient, and perhaps unfair, but I don't know if it's illegal. Now if only conservative blogs are blocked, then we have a real problem. They had better start blocking those liberal blogs too.

Cato said...

The DOI Inspector general's website has a copy of the report that promted the current blocking effort Excessive Indulgences Personal Use of the Internet at the Department of the Interior.Note the weird cover on the pdf version.

The report is particularly concerned with gambling and pornography, and secondarily with time wasting. There is no mandate for any restriction of political news, but there is mention of the neceesity for restriction of active political work (as required by the Hatch act).

The numbers are impressive. A lot of man-hours going down the drain. It's amazing how ignorant most people are about hwo easy it is to track (if not limit) their usage. I worked as a consultant in a municipal office in Ohio, and was admitted to the server room to do some work. They were running a logger back there that showed every Internet request on a screen and logged it to a file. Watching the screen, you could see endless numbers of sexually suggestive and other non-businesslike URLs streaming by. Each one was accompanied by the user's computer name and IP address. They could have fired half the staff and backed it up.

Oh well, in a few years, everyone will be getting their net access through their cell phones - except those of us over 39 (cough) who can barely see the damn things.

Cato said...

One more comment and then I will give it a rest. I agree with the commenter at Wizbang (I think) who suggested that if there is a bias/conspiracy, it originates not at the policy level, but at the implementation level - the IT guy doing the blocking is some refugee from the DU or Kos Kids who has been indulging his own tastes. You can expect that to stop now that the lights are on.

lumberjack said...

Exactly, Cato. A nerd with a view is probably responsible for any bias that exists in the filters. The filters may be a reasonable policy -- any bias in them would not be reasonable.

As for blocking sites to improve productivity, I hope nobody is going to say, "that's ridiculous, our government workers are productive enough already." I work as a contractor for the government and I see who is working and who is just wasting time. (though most gov. workers are doing their jobs, welfare-on-a-swivel-chair does exist)

So let's see how it goes. Chances are, all blogs will end up blocked at DOI. Which just means some people will have to wait till they get home to find enlightenment. I have to admit, it will be nice to know our buffalo aren't being neglected because some bureaucrat is catching up on why Cheney is the devil at the daily kos.

David said...

The attempt to micromanage employee time allocation, as by restricting access to blogs, is counterproductive. If an employer can't do a reasonable amount of personal stuff while in the office--whether scheduling a visit to get an appliance fixed, talking with associates about sports, or reading a blog--then how is it reasonable to expect him to spend out-of-the-office time doing work-related stuff, or even thinking about work-related stuff?

Competent managers know what *results* their employees are expected to accomplish, and focus on these outputs rather than on the details of how the employee spends his time.

chsw10605 said...

So, is Gates of Vienna a pornography, gambling or an auction website?

Anyway, the press release reeks of CYA.

Baron Bodissey said...

chsw10605 --

Gates of Vienna is a covert whorehouse and casino for transgendered CIA agents. That's why we're banned.

Seriously, there's more to this than meets the eye, but not much. I'll be releasing my report on the whole sorry caper before too much longer.