Sunday, October 15, 2006

FOLLOW UP BY SEAN GLEESON - DOI: ALL BLOGS BANNED

Posted in Critic by Sean Sat 14 Oct 2006 @ 7:55 am

The Federal Times is reporting on the DOI blog-ban. A spokesman for the Department of the Interior explained that their ultimate goal is to block all weblogs, not just conservative blogs. He gave two justifications for the policy: that blogs are not work-related, and that blogs are offensive.

An objective examination of these reasons, however, shows the blog-ban policy to be wrong. Blocking “blogs,” as if they were the culprit, makes about as much sense as blocking all websites with a ‘z’ in their name, or some other random attribute. Sure, you’ll end up blocking some offensive material, but that doesn’t justify the criterion. I call on the Department of the Interior to rethink this policy.

BLOGS ARE NOT WORK RELATED

The first justification for blocking all blogs is that they violate Interior’s policy “prohibiting the use of government computers on government time for sites unrelated to business.” In the main, that is no doubt true. Most blogs have nothing to do with the business of the Interior Department. Heck, only a quarter of all blogs are written in English, and only some subset of those, fewer than half, are American. Furthermore, only a tiny fraction of these American blogs — let’s be conservative and say one percent — contain any content that would be even slightly useful for conducting the affairs of the U.S. Department of the Interior. For some ballpark numbers, let’s say that there are about 50 million blogs in the world, but only about 5 million are American, and only 50 thousand have work-related content for DOI employees.

The problems with this justification are:

1. The same is true for the entire Internet, not just blogs. Of all the websites in existence, only a tiny sliver of them might contain work-related content for DOI staff. Singling out blogs as being especially non-work-related makes little sense. For what it’s worth, I would bet that the proportion of work-related to non-work-related content is actually higher for the blogosphere than for the Web as a whole.

2. The ban is for all time, not just paid time. There is no policy against using government computers for personal Web browsing on the employee’s own time. If a DOI employee wants to come to the office early, or eat lunch at his desk, or stay awhile after work, there is no reason to block him from reading a few blogs. But the DOI blog ban blocks all blogs at all times.

BLOGS ARE OFFENSIVE

The other justification offered by the DOI spokesman was that blogs “are among blocked sites because some include sexually explicit language, libelous or defamatory commentary, and outrageous language.” Again, this is indisputably true; some blogs include some or all of those things. And the DOI certainly has a valid interest in keeping such content off of government computers, even on the employees’ personal time.

The problems with this justification are:

1. The same is true for the entire Internet, not just blogs. I hate to sound like a broken record here, but some websites that are not blogs also contain pornography and other bad things. A website is not more likely to be obscene because it is a blog. I think most blogs (like this one) are clean as a whistle.

2. The ban is on all blogs, not just obscene ones. There is software that can block obscene content from a Web browser. Parents and school libraries use it all the time, so why can’t DOI? Or why not make use of the ICRA system of content labels, which was designed for exactly this sort of purpose?

See other coverage on Gates of Vienna, and Zonka.

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