The Transportation Security Administration's "Blogger Bob" learned a lesson about public perception with an entry he wrote on Jan. 28
about a criminal case. A traveler named Phillip Mocek allegedly refused to cooperate with TSA screeners in the Albuquerque airport, and ended up in court on four charges: trespassing, disorderly conduct, refusing to obey an officer and concealing identity. A jury later acquitted him on all charges.
Blogger Bob neglected to mention the acquittal in the initial entry, but recounted the incident that led to Mocek's arrest: "Mr. Mocek had a boarding pass, but would not produce ID when asked. As I've said before here on the blog, if you don’t have an ID, TSA will work with you to verify you are who you say you are. On the other hand, if you refuse to provide information, you will not be permitted to fly," he wrote. "This process had begun with Mr. Mocek, but was not completed. Without an ID that matches the individual holding the boarding pass, we can’t be sure the passenger has cleared government watchlists."
Blogger Bob also noted that Mocek allegedly tried to use a camera during the screening. "As [transportation security officers] were talking to Mr. Mocek to verify his identity, he was holding a camera up to film them and appeared to be trying to film sensitive security information [SSI] related to TSA standard operating procedures on ID verification. Such behavior interferes with the ordinary course of business at the checkpoint and may well delay other passengers," he wrote. However, he added, TSA does not prohibit photography at checkpoints as long as it doesn't interfere with the screening process.
That initial entry evoked a firestorm of critical comments. One anonymous commenter quoted a paragraph recounting the allegations, and said: "The jury did not see it that way. That is why he was found NOT GUILTY on all four charges. Why do you lie about this? It only puts you in the same company as the Information Ministers of other tyrants."
Another asked: "Why are you repeating the allegations as if they were fact, when in reality he was found not guilty? You are misleading your readers into believing that Mr. Mocek's behavior was illegal. A jury found that it was not."
Another honed in on the photography rule. "How long did it take you to write that spin? Attempting to "film sensitive security information related to TSA standard operating procedures on ID verification?" That's probably the most ludicrous statement I've heard about the case," the commenter wrote. "Are you trying to claim that the contents of the question-and-answer game TSA plays with no-ID [passengers] are SSI? Or that SSI paperwork is just laying around at the [checkpoint] waiting to be filmed?"
And a commenter named Bruce added: "The notion that he was trying to film 'sensitive security information' is absurd. The screener testified that Mocek 'might' have picked up a form containing his own information on the videotape. Is that supposed to be secret? Good grief, you should be ashamed of yourself."
In all, the post has gotten 165 comments, some of which are from TSA blogger West trying to respond to some of the criticism, but most of which are critical.
Blogger Bob amended the original post on Jan. 30 to acknowledge Mocek's acquittal, but insisted the legal charges were not the point -- the TSA's procedures are.
"In so far as Mr. Mocek wants to fly in the future, like other passengers, he will still need to produce ID or work cooperatively with TSOs to confirm his identity," he wrote. "TSA verification processes must proceed quickly and without interference. Any passenger holding a camera in the face of TSOs as they try verify identification should not be surprised if asked to step aside so that other passengers in line can be processed expeditiously without further disruption."
Posted on Feb 02, 2011 at 7:01 PM15 comments
As another winter storm that could disrupt travel approaches the Washington, D.C., region, the Office of Personnel Management is trying to get word out today that feds may be able to telework. OPM is trying to head off a repeat of last week, when a crippling afternoon snowstorm rapidly deteriorated travel conditions and left some commuters trapped in their cars for more than 12 hours.
In a news release issued today, OPM officials said, "Now is the time for managers and employees to discuss the possibility of working from home on Tuesday. Uncertain weather conditions could extend through Wednesday. OPM will update the operating status as needed and appropriate. This may include a delayed arrival on Tuesday morning. OPM will continue to monitor conditions closely and will make that decision as soon as possible. Please follow your local news and www.opm.gov/status closely for updates."
OPM: Discuss telework options before weather hits
Meanwhile, feds are telling us that the two-hour early departure last week wasn't all that helpful, and while OPM Director John Berry had said on the radio that feds with telework arrangements could leave even earlier, many employees never got the message.
"Left work at 4:30 from Silver Spring MD. Heading up 29N. Got home well after 1:00 in the morning and then had to shovel out my parking space," wrote one commenter. "Precipitation wasn't that bad, never did find out what STARTED the blockage on 29, but then the slush piled up and everyone ground to a halt for hours. No police, no plows - it was chaos."
"The telework option was not circulated where I work. People were encouraged to follow the early leave dismissal," wrote another commenter. "I left ahead of the storm and did not get caught in the worst of the commute. Others who left about the same time did get caught because they live further away than I do. I teleworked the next day."
Another commenter warned that some agencies may be maintaining the inflexible policies that prevented some feds from teleworking during the major snowstorms of December 2009 and February 2010. "I am teleworking two days a week due to a medical condition. Here's the kicker. I am NOT allowed to alter my schedule for any reason other than training or management's discretion, weather is not a reason."
Posted on Jan 31, 2011 at 7:01 PM1 comments
Federal Computer Week published a package of articles recently about a notorious website that releases classified documents, and the ramifications for federal agencies. Our articles covered various aspects of federal worklife in the era that this website has created, including transparency, data security and the makeup of the workforce itself.
Then, on Friday, we learned from a reader that people trying to read the articles at the Veterans Affairs department were unable to -- they were blocked. Although the firewall message that people saw did not specify the reason, we assume it is because the name of the webiste -- which I'm carefully not using here, but it rhymes with "tricky geeks" -- appears in the headlines and body text of the stories.
Seriously, VA? We're all for security but blocking information because of a word is like swinging a sledgehammer to remove a splinter. It brings back the debates from a decade ago where libraries and schools were criticized for using blocking software that, for example, blocked websites about breast cancer because 'breast' was on the list of forbidden words.
Reading classified or sensitive material released by a website might be a problem for federal employees. Reading our articles about tricky geeks will not. If the VA can't find blocking software that can figure out the difference, perhaps it's time for a new approach.
What about your agency? How does your agency determine what to block and what is safe? Let us know.
Posted on Jan 31, 2011 at 7:01 PM10 comments