Being an IT dweeb, I work an internal Helpdesk occasionally. I’m on the receiving end of a lot of complaints about the websites the web-blocking software blocks. And they all ask me why. Sometimes I can take a good guess. Gambling, porno, hate speech, those are pretty easy to explain, even to upper management. But other sites, even though they can be perceived as time-wasters, should they be blocked? Should we only be blocking the stuff department guidelines specify as illegal, or should we be making judgments on attractive nuisances?
We had our office Christmas party (Ok, for political correctness, “holiday” party) at a local bar and grill. Its website was blocked. The Websense reason? Liquor. Liquor? What? Someone found a way to drink online?
How about this one? A fan fic site is blocked. The Websense reason? Alternate Religion. Now “a fan fic site” is one containing fan-written stories about characters in movies, tv shows or whatever. It usually has something to do with Star Trek. Is this an alternate religion? Hmm. Some might think so. What exactly does a religion have to do to be termed “alternate”? If we do not block “standard” religions, why are we blocking “alternate” ones? I smell a future lawsuit coming over this one.
I could go on. There really doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to the categories Websense blocks and their contents. I doubt we spent all that much time configuring it. We may have simply clicked one of the “out of the box” configurations when we set the thing up. Obviously we haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about this nuance. But after attending many cross-agency meetings on Web policy, I see that no one else has this nailed down either. Some agencies won’t let users even go to Amazon.com and others are wide open, even for things considered illegal. As usual, the need for a fair and well thought out policy on this evidences itself.
This all is frustrating enough, but it is not my major complaint. What I really hate is when you ask authorities why something is blocked (I do this so I can then relay this intelligent reason to the user who asked me) you usually get some canned response like “It’s a security risk” You can tell that they have never heard of this website, know nothing about it or the types of information it serves up, but they would have you believe that they know what you’re talking about and that they reached this decision after due consideration. Oh please. What was it Peter Lorre said to Humphrey Bogart in THE MALTESE FALCON? “I wish you had thought up a better story. I felt distinctly like an idiot repeating it.”