Banned Blogs

So I’m fed up. I’m tired of hearing about fantastic blogs written by fantastic people that are banned by different federal departments of the Canadian public service.

Banned you say? Isn’t that a little dramatic?

No! I mean banned.

The IT departments of several federal governments block certain websites that are deemed to have inappropriate or non-work related content. Typically these include sites like Facebook, Gmail and of course, various porn sites (a list of well known mainstream sites that are blocked can be found here).

I’ve known for a while that my site – eaves.ca – is blocked by several departments and it hasn’t bothered me (I’ve always felt that blocking someone increase people’s interest in them), But as whispers about the number of blogs blocked grows, I find the practice puzzling and disturbing. These are not casual blogs. One might think this is limited to casual or personel blogs but many of the blogs I hear about are on public policy or the public service. They may even contain interesting insights that could help public servants. They are not sites that contain pornographic material, games or other content that could be construed as leisure (as enjoyable as I know reading my blog is…).

So, in an effort to get a better grasp of the scope and depth of the problem I’d like your help to put together a list. On eaves.ca I’ve created a new page – entitled “Banned Blogs” that lists blogs and the Canadian Federal Government Ministries that ban them. If you are a public servant and you know of a blog that is blocked from your computer please send me a note. If you know a public servant, ask them to check their favourite blogs. If you know of a site that is blocked you can send me an email, at tweet, or an anonymous comment on this blog, I’ll add it to the list. It would be fantastic to get a sense of who is blocked and by which departments. Maybe we’ll even knock some sense into some IT policies.

Maybe.

(Post script: Douglas B. has some great suggestions about how to deal with blocked sites and lists some of the ancient policies that could help public servants fight this trend).

28 thoughts on “Banned Blogs

  1. marknca

    [disclaimer: I'm a security guy]I commented twice on @DBast's post originally and will recap briefly here.First question that must be asked, “is the block explicit?”If the “banned” blog/site has been explicitly blocked by the department then there's a significant issue that has to be addressed. Much more likely is that the blog in question is raising false positives based on a scoring/heuristic model.Best practices from the info security world;- have a clear internal policy that lays out what is appropriate and what's not- provide clear messages to the user- provide a procedure to report false positivesAll of these steps are key to user experience. Simply blocking sites/blogs without clear direction is a recipe for disaster. Worse yet, most of the tools used to block/filter update automatically daily. What is blocked today may or may not be blocked tomorrow.Using these technologies in a closed manner is very frustrating to users. It’s best to be open and honest as to what you’re doing and why. Sadly that’s contrary to the approach most security groups take.Filtering has a place in an enterprise security model. It's a great tool to protect your network from malicious actors/sites. If you're using it to manage staff (e.g., you should be working now) or make value judgements (e.g., you shouldn't be viewing that) then you're probably taking the wrong approach.As a user, don’t just accept the fact that a site is blocked. Ask why. Report false positives. Make sure the security team and the CIO can accurately determine the value of the filtering tool.With a little care and diligence, filtering technology can be a big boost to an enterprise’s security posture. It does not have to come at the expense of usability.Demand better.

    Reply
  2. Lea

    I understand blocking Facebook at the office (although I'm not convinced that it always makes ppl less productive), but banning blogs, especially ones dealing with policy issues, is disturbing. It's censorship, plain and simple.If your blog were a book, and a public servant brought it into the office and was told it's banned, that would be a clear case of censorship. “You can't tell me what to read” and so on. But somehow, when it comes to the internet, we've grown to accept that our employers can tell us what we can and can't read.

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  3. Martha McLean

    Hi David,I'm a little concerned about the use of the word 'banned' in this context as it insinuates someone is making the deliberate decision to disallow access to information.In most, possibly not all, but most cases, access to sites is blocked due to software being used and the filters being applied. By way of example, we came into work Monday to find access to bit.ly was not granted.A simple email to the team responsible for this (which was provided in our 'access not granted' page) generated a quick and suitable explanation of a software update that took place over the weekend resulting in some pages being disallowed.We noted the issue and it was resolved.Like you, I take exception to any blanket policies that block sites such as Twitter, Facebook, Youtube etc. In cases such as above where it is a site by site basis, I'd recommend employees first follow up with the IT shop responsible and a discussion should take place before we cry foul.For thought.@mjmclean

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  4. @nrepin

    dear davidso far your blog (as well as cpsrenewal) is not blocked at Health Canada, BC Region.We do get some strange sites blocked at times though, ones that we use to do health research.

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  5. Wolfkin

    I partially disagree. Presuming of course that this is a deliberate block and not a false positive and that steps have been taken to ensure this was intentional. I think maybe the company has made a decision and not necessarily a wrong one in blocking the site. I speak not of sites /like/ facebook (which includes LinkedIn and, more professional iterations, which are vastly useful resources) but specifically facebook. I AM convinced that it does make people less productive. Sure you CAN do productive and useful work on facebook but that's like saying you CAN buy a six pack of beers to create culinary delight. Sure it's possible and maybe you can find one person in a hundred who bought a six-pack today to make some delicious beer-battered shrimp. The other 99 bought it to get drunk. Facebook nowadays like the beer metaphor is more useless than useful in terms of productivity. Comparing a blog to a book is a more realistic metaphor and like a book, there's a time and a place. You shouldn't be reading Harry Potter in the middle of the day when you should be working and if you were you would expect chastisement. The same applies to these blogs. Noone is telling you what you can and can't read just what you can read while you're at work. Sitting at your desk reading a javascript reference guide or some middle management scenarios book is one thing. Sitting at your desk reading Twilight is another.bah. You weren't even really trying to defend facebook so this whole thing is mostly moot anywway but I just had to throw that out there.

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  6. James Wanless

    I was a Senior Web Strategist for the RCMP for a very brief stint, in fact shorter than the amount of time it took them to finish the recruiting procedure. Anyway, the lack of organizational understanding at the time, of how to do one's work as a web strategist was nothing short of amazing. The number of times I was downright blocked from hitting standard web sites simply floored me.

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  7. Cuba Kid

    I work for a division of the Ontario government. Our firewall is outsourced and websites are added by the vendor to blacklists and categorized. Until a recent request to unblock, wordpress.com was completely blocked under the “social networking” category. Many other blogs, found at random by searching for solutions to technical problems, are blocked.

    Reply
  8. David Eaves

    Hi Martha,I understand your point, but I'm not sure that a banned site becomes acceptable because a piece of software blocked it versus a person. One of my hopes from this is that by seeing this page a) more public servants feel empowered about letting people know they'd like to access relevant but “banned” sites; b) IT people become more relaxed in their use (or get persuaded to abandon the use) of software that blocks sites and c) software that determines what sites to block becomes more sophisticated in response to customer demands.Ultimately however, a blocked site is a blocked site. I'm also a little disappointed about what this says regarding trust and confidence management has in public servants.

    Reply
  9. lucianteo

    Hi David,It would be hard to justify putting people in charge of scanning the internet and blocking these sites for govt employees who are adults, so I'd have to invoke Hanlon's razor – it's probably because they subscribed to some over-zealous filtering service.My blog was blocked the first day I joined the public sector, and that really spooked me, but in the end I found out that it was coincidental, and they unblocked it after I sent a request.

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  10. Radix

    Firstly, blocking of websites is a terrible way of improving security [disclaimer: I'm a web-security researcher]. It's security through obscurity and a lazy way to avoid teaching users how to protect themselves. Moreover, any security gains it might potentially offer are far outweighed by the cost of constantly needing to nanny the NetNanny, Bluecoat etc. Secondly, the Open Net Initiative generally and the Citizen Lab particularly might be interested in doing something with testing this. They have a pretty decent set-up for testing the blocking integrity of large firewalls (such as in China, the UAE, Burma/Myanmar)Thirdly, anybody working in a government of Canada site should download TOR, particularly the TOR plug-in for FireFox. http://www.torproject.org/easy-download.html.enFourthly, Psiphon is an easy-to-use open-source web-based proxy service. Maybe we can set one up for Government Employees to use?

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  11. Jennifer F.

    Hi there – the site you’re referencing and image you’re referencing in this post is mine, and note that this post was made over two years ago. As far as I know, my site is no longer blocked by the department that had been blocking it, so it’s not accurate to list it as a currently-banned site. I’d like to ask that you please remove the screen shot I’d used in that blog post from your post. Thanks.

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  12. Lea

    No, definitely not defending Facebook. Overzealous workplace productivity monitoring is another topic for another.You're right in that putting up your feet midday to read Harry Potter is an obvious no-go. But the difference there is that I can still bring the Harry Potter into the office – no one is searching my bag (hopefully) when I come in. And, if I want to go sit in the cafeteria or the bldg lobby on my lunch and read it, I can. But a blocked website can't be accessed at any time, for any purpose. Having to send a request to IT, and often getting your boss to sign off on its legitimacy, is infantilizing – “Please may I read what David Eaves has to say about government policies? I promise it won't interfere with my work.”Ultimately, it's that the government is preventing its employees from reading certain policy sites that's a problem. I understand how it happens, in terms of the technical security issues behind it, but I think it's a weak excuse.

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  13. cjottawa

    Dave,There was a fantastic armchair discussion a couple of days ago which featured (among others) Nick Charney of the CSPSRenewal blog and Kathleen Edmond, Chief Ethics Officer for BestBuy Corporation. (!)I am in the process of getting a copy of the video and will post it as it was 2+ hours of enlightened, passionate discussion about issues directly related to your own post which I comment here on.One of the points made by the Kathleen was that, as a large organization, burying your head in the sand doesn't make problems go away, it magnifies them.BestBuy was confronted with sites highly critical of the corporation and driven by posts by their own employees, posts detailing issues such as harassment.BestBuy had previously buried their collective head in the sand, driving employees to contribute to critical sites.They turned it around, providing them with redress mechanisms. Instead of venting externally, employees were empowered to put their energy into tools to help solve the internal problems. An interesting side-effect for BestBest was at least one of the major critique sites evaporated as the employee-driven content disappeared.Government would do well to learn from this example and either adopt or become irrelevant.You're spot on Dave.

    Reply
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  15. Jay D

    I feel that if you are there to work, then work. Surfing the internet is something you do on your own time.I worked Tech Support at Shaw and we didn't have full access to the internet (most people)But Shaw has gone through their phases with all that.

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  16. David Eaves

    Jay,Thank you for the comment. I agree, when you are at work, you should work. My point about the blogs listed on Banned Blogs <https://eaves.ca/banned-blogs/> is that they contain information that is relevant to the work of public servants.Blocking parts of the internet strikes me as both futile (the chinese invest a fair bit of time and energy into this without complete success, so not sure how successful our government will be) and counter productive (why limit the knowledge and information public servants can access – many important authors, thinkers and industry insiders write blogs on issues relevant to government, why deny public servants access to it?).I'm not sure either of us would be comfortable if the public service should hire a service that scans magazines and newspapers that get delivered each morning and tear out all the articles that are deemed inappropriate.

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  19. Riven

    It is just frustrating that your website got banned for reason that it hasn’t indexed yet, though the owner doing everything. I was just curious what websites are banned by Google. I tried to make a research but it seems they don’t put it on search results.

    Reply

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