TSA reverses Web site censorship policy

Agency never intended to block controversial opinion, spokeswoman says

The Transportation Security Administration today rescinded its new policy of blocking employees' access to Web sites with “controversial opinions.”

TSA officials now say they never intended to block controversial content and they are blaming the mixup on cybersecurity protocols that cast too wide a net against Web sites that may pose security risks.

The controversy began on July 2, when the TSA’s Office of Information Technology circulated a memo stating that as of July 1, five categories of Web sites would be blocked from work computer access: chat and messaging, gaming, criminal activity, gruesome content/extreme violence or "controversial opinion."


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“After further review, TSA determined the 'controversial opinion' category may contain some sites that do not violate TSA's policy and therefore has concluded that the category is no longer being considered for implementation,” Lauren Gaches, a TSA spokeswoman, said in revising the policy. The other four categories remain in place.

“Our intent is not, and never has been, to limit our employees' ability to access or share 'controversial opinions,' ” Gaches said.

She said the “controversial opinion” category first was intended to describe Web sites that violate acceptable use guidelines for employees. “The category is an IT software catch-all phrase used to describe sites that may violate TSA's acceptable use policy, such as sites that promote destructive behavior to one's self or others,” Gaches said.

The official TSA Blog also is characterizing the incident as a case of cybersecurity software that went too far in restricting access.

TSA uses a cybersecurity application that limits work computer access to certain categories of Web sites that are known to pose an increased security risk or that violate the acceptable use policy on government computers, according to a TSA Blog entry on July 7. “Controversial opinion” is one of those categories, the blog states.

However, the TSA determined that its cybersecurity software defined controversial opinion too broadly.

 

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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