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Interior's Internet Problems:

For months Interior Department employees were without web access — and the public website was off-line — under court order due to concerns about data security. During the Cobell litigation over the Department's handling of certain Indian Trusts, Judge RoyceLamberth ordered the shut down.

Now that the Interior Department is back on-line, it seems that quite a few employees are making up for lost time. A weeklong internal investigation by the Department's Inspector General found thousands of log entries for sexually explicit and gambling websites, in addition to game and auction sites. In that week alone, 440 DOI employees visited sexually explicit websites on their government computers. The IG's report, "Excessive Indulgences" estimated that time spent on auction and gaming websites accounted for over 100,000 hours of lost productivity over the course of the year.

The Interior Department has begun to respond to the report by upgrading blocking software to limit employee accesss to inappropriate sites. According to some reports, this new software is blocking access to many blogs. Indeed, it is specifically alleged that certain conservative blogs are blocked while equivalent liberal blogs or not.

Given the problems of computer misuse identified in the IG's report, I could understand (though I would disagree with) an Interior Department policy barring or limiting access to blogs generally. Screening blogs based on their ideological content, on the other hand, is more troublng. If it is true, as claimed by Gates of Vienna, that Captain's Quarters and Powerline are blocked, while DailyKos and Informed Comment remain accessible, that is a problem. Government agencies should not use ideological criteria for selecting which sites government employees may access.

Are these reports accurate? If there are VC readers at DOI, please let us know in the comments below. (Indeed, let us know if you can still access the VC.)

UPDATE: Gates of Vienna's Baron Bodissey is convinced something is nefarious is afoot at DOI. I am not so sure. As noted in the comments below, there are many possible explanations for the pattern of blocked sites that do not involve deliberate ideological filtering by government bureaucrats. Perhaps time will tell.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Interior Blocking Blogs:
  2. Interior's Internet Problems:
Stephen F. (mail) (www):
A weeklong internal investigation by the Department's Inspector General found thousands of log entries for sexually explicit and gambling websites, in addition to game and auction sites.

I didn't read the report, so forgive me if this is addressed in there: Are people really going to the sites this often, or do pop-up ads also show up in the data logs? Auction sites I can understand (seen plenty of eBay use in my cubicle days), but are there really THAT many government employees who can't wait to get home to get their porn or gambling fix? Pop-up ads are pretty common for those two fields. I wonder if they contributed some false positive results.
10.13.2006 10:57am
anonVCfan:
Maybe they figure no one reads the liberal blogs anyway...

Or maybe it's an evil conservative plot to set a trap for the liberal employees... catch them wasting time at work by visiting blog sites, then fire 'em.
10.13.2006 11:04am
Anderson (mail) (www):
Who at Interior, exactly, would be a liberal ideologue trying to block conservative sites?
10.13.2006 11:21am
John (mail):
"If there are VC readers at DOI, please let us know in the comments below. (Indeed, let us know if you can still access the VC.)"

Doesn't the parenthetical pose a form of Russellian paradox?
10.13.2006 11:32am
Jonathan H. Adler (mail) (www):
Anderson --

If the charges are accurate, I would assume that the "liberal ideologues" in question would be the career employees with responsibility for implementing the policy. Very few policies of this sort are implemented, or even effectively overseen, by political appointees. Another possibility, of course, is that the blocking software haphazrdly blocks some blogs based upon neutral criteria of some sort.

JHA
10.13.2006 11:33am
lucia (mail) (www):
I'll throw out a possible theory for how the list appear biased even if the person creating the block tried to act unbiased.

A computer wonk wrote a program to determine found which sites were most visited. Starting at the top of the list and moving to the bottom the wonk quickly visited individual sites to determine "appropriate", "not appropriate". Blogs discussing politics, cooking, knitting etc. were eliminated without regard to being left leaning or right leaning.

So, why wouldn't the DailyKos be elminated? Turns out practically no one at the Department of the Interior reads it! {{ vbg }}

Ok. I admit my theory probably won't test out. We'll have to wait to read confirmation of the bias and learn how the list is really made. But bias outcomes can happen for strange reasons!)
10.13.2006 11:41am
Jeremy Pierce (mail) (www):
They might be using an already-existing software package to block certain sites. We've seen in the past that schools block certain blogs and not others, and it tends to lean more toward blocking conservative blogs and not blocking equivalent liberal blogs. If there's some software package that does exactly that, and the Interior Dept. just bought it and installed it, that would explain it.
10.13.2006 11:47am
jimbino (mail):
Fake libertarian Eugene Volokh will try to censor what you publish if he disagrees with what you say or how you say it. He acts like a helicopter parent, the Interior Department or China. As they say at Peacefire.org, "You'll understand when your're younger."

My access to posting here has already been blocked by Volokh. Of course his censorship doesn't work, because I can simply gain access from a public computer or from my blocked computer by use of a proxy, otherwise known as a circumventor: Right now I am posting by means of www.stupidcensorship.com, but in the past I have used www.gravitywars.com.

If you are ever censored by China or Volokh or are attempting to access gambling or porn at your workplace, check out this tutorial that covers methods for circumventing internet filters and protection/blocking services. There are several excellent methods.

1. Use peacefire.org's circumventor software

Peacefire.org is a site that is dedicated to free speech on the internet. To help them with their goals the have created the circumventor software. The circumventor can be placed on a friend's computer, allowing you access to restricted websites. The following URL contains detailed instructions for the installation and use of the circumventor.

Peacefire

2. Proxy Lists

A proxy is a computer which allows information to be remotely queried. For example, if I can't get access to alcohol but my friend can, I would ask my friend to get alcohol for me. This is a simplistic explanation of how a proxy works. Getting lists of these allows you to circumvent many internet filtering products. To set up a proxy you will want to find the connection properties of your internet browser.

In Firefox

Click on Tools —> Options
Select the "General" icon
Under Connection click on connection settings
Select "Manual proxy configuration" radio button
Enter in proxy information

Several URLs of Lists
http://www.samair.ru/proxy/
http://www.stayinvisible.com/index.pl/proxy_list
http://www.proxy4free.com/page1.html
http://www.publicproxyservers.com/page1.html

For more information visit http://www.proxy4free.com/index.html

3. Sockschain

Sockschain is a program that uses strings of proxies to hide IP addresses and to prevent blocking software from working. It can be installed and will work with any internet browser. This is an extension of the above. It increases your chances of anonymity and of getting to restricted websites.

It can be found at http://www.ufasoft.com/socks/

4. JAPJAP is a program which uses a combination of encryption and mixes to bypass censorship programs. By using the mixes and encryption, it is difficult to find out where information is coming from and going allowing restricted web sites to be accessed.

It can be found at http://anon.inf.tu-dresden.de/index_en.html

5. Lastly, there are many, many ways to circumvent filters and blocking programs. For a good resource go to:http://nocensor.citizenlab.org/#4.3.5.1
10.13.2006 12:23pm
SamChevre:
Well, at least my workplace is ideologically balanced; it block all blogspot blogs, without any distinctions.
10.13.2006 12:31pm
zooba:
You're mislead when you state "Government agencies should not use ideological criteria for selecting which sites government employees may access."

It's not really the intent of the DOI/BIA to do that, it is simply an effect of a the existing list in a program they chose, and they probably had now knowledge of that effect of it.

The real blaim probably lies at some liberal working in the web-site reading department of the censoring company. Either that or maybe conservative bloggers curse more.
10.13.2006 12:42pm
Zzyzx (mail):
Our U.S. gov't (not DoI) server blocks all blogspot blogs (stating that they might contain sexually explicit material), but lets most others (like VC) through.
10.13.2006 1:23pm
Colin (mail):
Jimbino, I don't think there's anything un-Libertarian about saying "keep off my lawn." It is, after all, his lawn.
10.13.2006 1:26pm
KeithK (mail):
I work for a government contractor. Job security is great - aside form the possibility of general layoffs it's unlikely that someone here will lose his or her job. But if I hit porn sites I will be walked out of the building pretty darm quickly. Why wouldn't the government employ such a policy? Amazing.
10.13.2006 1:55pm
AnonContractor:
I'm a contractor with one of the Agencies in DOI. We've always had WebWasher running within the agency, but the new blocking software from the Department just kicked in last week or so. Its seems to be gradually adding more sites to its 'off limits' list. For example, only just this morning, I can no long get to Andrewsullivan.com. But can still get to Volokh and Slate and some others. Not sure how long that will last.

I too wonder about false positives, with those ads in the sidebars.

Just some observations. Happy Friday.
10.13.2006 2:11pm
Huck (mail):
I never user my employer's computer to access the net for private purposes.

To do that I have a personally owned notebook with wireless internet access, via a cellphone company. Costs about 50$ a month.
10.13.2006 3:06pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
The IG's report, "Excessive Indulgences" estimated that time spent on auction and gaming websites accounted for over 100,000 hours of lost productivity over the course of the year.
Leaving aside the question of what counts as "productivity" for government bureaucrats, the conclusion is ridiculous.

First, you have the false precision in the report (the report actually says "104,221 hours").

Second (minor point about your summary) it did not say that the time spent "accounted for over 100,000 hours over the course of the year," but that the time spent, extrapolated to a year, would account for that much.

And most importantly, it is based on the ludicrous assumption that people are productive every minute, except when they're using these sites. If someone hops on ebay while sitting on hold on the telephone, it doesn't cost "productivity." If someone hops on poker.com instead of reading the dead-tree newspaper, or chatting about last night's football game, or taking a cigarette break, or taking a nap, it doesn't cost "productivity."
10.13.2006 5:55pm
QuintCarte (mail):
David,

I totally agree with your point. I read websites at work, but I do it either when I'm waiting 5 mins for something to finish (not enough time to really start a new task), or when I need a brief mental break. I would not being doing something productive during that time, regardless of my web access.

The other thing I think is very misleading is how the estimates are come up with. How many hours are employees browsing the web? Well, I sign onto my personal email through a website first thing in the morning, check it 4 or 5 times through the day, and close it as one of the last things I do when leaving. So, I'm spending *maybe* 10 minutes looking at email, but a monitoring program would think I've been looking at that site for 9-10 hours straight. (I never close the browser during the day, just minimize it).
10.13.2006 7:51pm
Dave Hardy (mail) (www):
Used to work at Interior, still have friends there. Their internet wasn't shut off for months. It was shut off for YEARS. At least three, maybe five or six. Justice Dept's litigation strategy was to force the judge to lift the internet ban by holding out and demonstrating it was causing disasters. It didn't work very well. Judges who are facing a decade of foot-dragging, despite holding several Interior Secretaries in contempt, tend to be like that.

Never had contact with anyone running department-wide computer ops, but the ones who ran it in our office (meaning about 400 people) were techie morons. I mean, morons. I could not explain the difference between RAM and hard drive memory to one of them -- I'm serious. They thought requesting a whole 50 megabytes of storage from the client would be incredible, since "that's as much memory as a hundred computers," and I couldn't explain the matter to them. In part because they didn't know what a hard drive was. Literally didn't. They just knew information went into this big metal box and somehow got stored. And this was the IT branch!

As far as partisanship -- the appointees will be GOP, of course, but are less than 1% of the workforce. Most of the supervisors will be from past Admins. During Bush I, my boss had been hired under Jimmy Carter, and promoted then, too. In theory, the GOP years would have seen some such activity for conservatives, but in practice GOP never really had a grasp of the bureaucracy, and it went on as usual.
10.13.2006 8:18pm
Lev:

Department's Inspector General found thousands of log entries for sexually explicit and gambling websites,


Wouldn't that be research on the Indian Tribe products?
10.14.2006 12:53am
Jim Carlile (mail):
I suspect that Lucia's theory is the best explanation for why conservative blogs are blocked more than liberal ones, that frequency of visits is being used to compile an initial log list of banned sites.

Can anything else really explain why KOS gets in? Not there. And probably not any more.
10.16.2006 8:05am