Should the US Government Be in the Business of Banning Websites?

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This topic contains 15 replies, has 7 voices, and was last updated by  Adam Arthur 7 years, 6 months ago.

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  • #141514

    I was just reading an article over on about the Slovak Ministry of Finance seeking to ban several websites. Here’s a brief excerpt:

    Last week, the Slovak Ministry of Finance proposed a revision of communication law by extending it to create a list of websites to be banned by all Slovak Internet service providers (ISPs)…This step is being taken as a measure to prevent citizens from gambling on international websites and therefore steering them to spend money, thus paying more taxes, only in the Slovak republic.

    Now I’m not sure if I’m on board with banning sites so that a government can retain revenue, even in difficult financial times. But I could see the merit in blocking or shutting down sites that are harmful to citizens:

    • Sites with deliberate misinformation in emergency situations (or that could spark an emergency)
    • Sites with known viruses that are created solely for that purpose
    • Sites used to spread propaganda or hate speech that could lead to harm against the United States and its interests

    A few other quick ruminations:

    So what you think? Should government be in the business of blocking access to websites?

  • #141544

    Adam Arthur

    Absolutely not. When you give any administration power like that, it passes that power on to the next – which could potentially lead to some very unpleasant results, (especially in the wrong hands). Freedom of Speech is a constitutional right for a reason – the moment you shut someone up, it’s gets easier and easier to make other groups shut up. Eventually, you’ll have no right to speak, based on what’s ‘nationally’ right or wrong for the ‘state’ – do you see where I’m going here?

  • #141542

    Denise Petet

    I completely and totally am for free speech…and don’t trust a govt agency any further than I can throw them in their ethics in blocking sites…that said….would blocking kiddie porn sites be that bad? Would blocking virus servers be that bad?

    Google ads runs ads all the time that try to download malicious software. People lose millions of dollars a year financing Nigerian princes. Viruses are spread via e-mails ‘from’ the IRS and white house and fedex and ups and tons of other sites. Thieves defraud people out of billions via phising schemes…..and none of this can be stopped.

    I don’t trust any agency to act with honor and integrity and appropriateness – heck I don’t even like to use bing because i hate the idea of a ‘guided’ search (cynic me says ‘guided to the results that are paid for’). I don’t use google chrome because I give them enough of my info, they can’t have my browsing to sell too…but the internet is getting worse and worse, it’s the wild, wild west with a keyboard.

    I don’t agree with what the slovaks block beyond virus sites, but I do think controlling the net from bonafide maliciousness is something that needs to be talked about, and done.

    but since it’s such a slippery slope, it needs to be done with all deliberateness and transparency adn accountability (this is what we block and why)

  • #141540

    Ed Albetski

    While I really don’t see that ANY nation has the authority to regulate the Internet, the sticking point might be the ability. Folks in countries like China still find channels to real news. The Internet (which is a heck of a lot more than just the World Wide Web) is a very hard thing to contain. Take it from an ex-government computer security guy budgets are spent on keeping folks from getting IN. Keeping our own folks from getting OUT is never as sophisticated.

    This scares me:

    “Sites used to spread propaganda or hate speech that could lead to harm against the United States and its interests”

    Who makes THIS call? A partisan elected official? I can see the Congress like the Keystone Cops trying to ban each other’s web sites. I guess we are still safe as long as Congress’ understanding of the Internet (it’s a series of tubes…) is rudimentary.

    And I agree with Adam. If this starts, where will it stop?

  • #141538

    Chris Poirier

    Like most things in life there are slipperly slopes to what seem to be very solid concepts:

    1. Sites with deliberate misinformation in emergency situations (or that could spark an emergency): Though I understand your point, this is only made more complicated by a simple concept, “who get’s to decide what is misinformation?” It’s not a very far trip from shutting a website down because they are obviously placing citizens at risk and shutting a website down because someone THINKS it is placing people at risk. How does one decide what is or is not and remain objective? (this debate is currently taking place with the internet emergency powers bills congress has already considered this year.)
    2. Sites with known viruses that are created solely for that purpose: Again, who decides when a site is “malicious” and reaches a threshold. Is there redress for this process?
    3. Sites used to spread propaganda or hate speech that could lead to harm against the United States and its interests: *See above* though hate speech does have legal boundries, first amendment issues apply here (you can dislike what is being said, just as much as someone can say it..within existing laws obviously). Also, who ever is “in control” will remove “propaganda” but who watches the watchers?
    4. The OpenNet Initiative indicates that the US has a mixed record with regard to Internet regulation, but largely errs on the side of protecting free speech: Yup, see everything is the difference between the US and others by and large.
    5. Government entities do block some websites from their employees, which is another form of banning, in my opinion: Couldn’t agree more, waiting to see this become an issue in the not to distant future.
    6. Google is holding governments accountable with its transparency map: This is some what entertaining..they hold governments accountable that they CHOOSE to hold accountable. (China any one? Because Google had only the best interests in mind there..)

    Like most things, nothing is easy. Though I agree with most below that blocking sites with legal violations (like child pornography) seems to have enough basis in existing US law one could support a legalistic approach with an appropriate redress process.

  • #141536

    Chris Poirier

    McCarthy anyone?

  • #141534

    Denise Petet

    I totally agree that the ‘propaganda sites’ scares the heck out of me. Same with ‘hate speech’. terms that are way too broad and can be interpreted to mean whatever someone with an agenda wants it to mean.

    That’s the part that’s scary.

    Instead of dealing with ‘bad’ sites on a case by case basis – and by bad i mean looking at it to determine if it’s illegal or not – they want to toss out broad sweeping criteria that will catch plenty of innocent sites in the process.

    It reminds me of our current net nanny at work. The name escapes me at the moment, but it’s so ‘good’ that when I would visit a science fiction forum on my lunch and try to talk about the Lost episode called ‘Recon’ i was blocked because the software determined that it was ‘gaming’ (guess it triggered off recon for the Force Recongame)

    Our net nanny is so bad and poorly configured that our computer services doesn’t even send out reports of who gets in ‘trouble’ anymore. Because managers were getting deluged with hundreds of reports, 99% of which were innocent, or people were flagged because they were on a legit site, such as Best Buy, that has links to facebook, thus showed up as the person visiting face book when they weren’t. the reviews were just linked back and the software couldn’t determine the difference.

  • #141532

    Chris Poirier

    Heh, early on Govloop was blocked as “social media” at my department. Yeah, social media is a “bad word” to our firewall. (though it always made me laugh that up until they unblocked it, it came up as “government/social media” as the offending

  • #141530

    Stephen Peteritas

    No, of course that’s a slippery slope but more so just because banning websites takes time, effort and money. It’s really easy to stand up a website and the people that operate the shady sites that would probably be on the ban list are much more savvy than the people the government would be hiring to execute this (that’s not a rip on govies but unless the gov’t is going to pay big time IT and code people the problem will always be ahead of the solution).

  • #141528

    Ed Albetski

    Websense, by any chance? We had this at my old agency. It’s an off the shelf product with clunky controls. It blocked the website of the restaurant we went to for our office holiday party because of LIQUOR. What was the rationale here? Did they think I could have a beer e-mailed to me?

    I was sitting in the helpdesk during the holidays between Christmas and New Years a few years ago and decided to view Websense as a challenge. It took me fifteen minutes BY THE CLOCK to defeat it. And I didn’t consider myself the sharpest knife in the IT drawer. It’s like a white picket fence. Everyone can see you have one, but it doesn’t exactly make your house a fortress now, does it?

  • #141526

    Denise Petet

    same here. We, as an agency, have facebook pages, those people either have to update them from home or apply for and get special access to update the ‘company’ webpage thanks to the net nanny.

    It’s another case of ‘instead of dealing with a singular problem on a case by case basis, let’s just make sweeping rules cause it’s easier that way’.

  • #141524

    Denise Petet

    That’s what it is. When they annouced we were getting it I googled it and there isn’t a filtering software that’s more panned and criticized, largely for its ‘blind’ blocking of sites.

    What good does it do to have it when computer services just deletes the reports? Also, on paper, we look like a bunch of malcontents constantly going to naughty sites, when the reality is it’s bad and poorly designed (and likely cheap) software giving bad results.

  • #141522

    Julie Chase

    are talking banned on your home PC or banned on your work PC?

  • #141520

    Denise Petet

    i believe people are talking banned totally. As in you, the general public, isn’t allowed to access this web site.

  • #141518

    Steve Ressler

    I think there’s some precedent with sites like child pornography being banned…

    Generally it’s a slippery slope but there’s clear violation of laws like child porn that should be banned

  • #141516

    Julie Chase

    What I think and what Uncle Sam decides are two different things. If I like and want to keep my job, I will do as Sam directs. At my agency/organization, you can get to Facebook and YouTube. You cannot get to GovLoop, LinkedIN, and most sites that have the word “forum” in them. You can click on CNN or Fox News, but if there is a video, you will not be able to play it. Access to Govexec, Fed Times, FedSmith and Fed Daily-Fed Soup are possible. Posting, nah, “the eyes in the sky” don’t want gov workers posting to message boards on gov time. Most foreign websites are blocked, it was done last year after a survey of how many gov workers have to have access to foreign websites. Accessing Wikileaks will get you in deep trouble, don’t even go there on a gov computer. We were told there would be time on the beach for that. We are not allowed to use thumb drives, and YES, “the eyes in the sky KNOW if/when you try it”. Downloading anything not directed to you by IT security is forbidden. IT Security will download what it thinks you need. Our computers are to be left on, (logged off your CAC) overnite in case they need to download something.. Adobe Professional is only available to those that require it in their job. In an office of 12, only two of us have it.

    Government entties “do block”. Why? Because it’s “their” computer system. Most private companies do the same. If you are in agency where you can Facebook, YouTube, GovLoop, and shop Amazon (Amazon is blocked) on your work computer, well consider yourself lucky. About 9 or so years ago, at another agency where I worked, during Christimas time, many workers did all their shopping during their lunch hour right there on the computer. Another worker used to read the newspaper off of his. That has all changed. The only shoppers are govcc holders, and the only shopping places are DoDemall, GSA Advantage and the local NISH store. (aka mandatory sources) I am glad you brought this to the table, it needs to be discussed.

    Sign me…the green eyed monster, pea-green with envy at you all…<G>

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