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VA's Internet blocking may be a little overzealous

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 12:18 PM


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