US National Science Foundation Blocking GV Advocacy

Recently, the Global Voices  team learned that this site, http://advocacy.globalvoicesonline.org, is blocked at the headquarters of the National Science Foundation (NSF) in Washington, D.C.  As is common practice for many companies and organizations, the NSF uses filtering software to block a number of websites.  Such filtering typically targets pornography and illegal content, but many organizations take the practice further.

In this case, Global Voices Executive Director Ivan Sigal wrote to the NSF to ask about the block.  This was the response he received:

The URL was submitted to the Blue Coat Review Commission for recategorization to remove the “Proxy Avoidance” category which is blocked and leave the “Political/Activist” category only which is currently not blocked. However, the Commission has denied the request indicating that the website has verbiage indicating how to avoid proxy filtering, which clearly violates our security policy and therefore will remain blocked.

Finally, due to security concerns, NSF does not release any information regarding its infrastructure, appliances, systems, or policies or those of other Federal Government agencies to external sources unless specifically mandated by the Office of Inspector General and/or the Chief Information Officer or their authorized representatives.

In other words, the NSF uses Blue Coat, commercial filtering software, to block proxies and circumvention tools, as well as sites which refer or link to proxy or circumvention tools (which this site does).

As Global Voices co-founder Ethan Zuckerman points out in a blog post, this is rather ironic, given that the United States government (in particular, the Department of State's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor) directly funds circumvention technology.  Zuckerman adds:

I’m pretty surprised to learn that the scientists at NSF are working in a filtered internet environment, and that the filtering is so aggressive that discussion of internet filtering and circumvention can’t be discussed. One wonders whether the State Department might consider offering some trainings for the National Science Foundation so that employees there can learn side by side with Chinese dissidents how to overcome filtering and learn about State Department sponsored research on internet filtering. Maybe we can sneak into the building with Tor on USB keys and clandestinely smuggle them to oppressed US scientists.

We at Global Voices would like to learn what other US government offices have implemented pervasive filtering, and what software is being used.  We know that the offices of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty use Websense to block websites, but what else can you tell us?  Please leave a comment, and if you have a screenshot, send us a link to it.

12 comments

  • me

    The entire internet is filtered. Until there are no more corporations and no more religions there is going to be a lot of bullshit.

    Go kill a religious person/politician.

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  • I couldn’t endorse blocking websites with political content, and the NSF scientists should be broad-minded enough to allow any political commentary. Global Voices seems to fall within the realm of what they should endorse.

    And yet, as always, there is more to this discussion than you really let on. When it comes to calls for using circumvention technology, the question, as always, is circumvention *of what*. Circumvention *by whom*?

    That’s never a value-judgement discussion you seem to want to have, since you want to focus narrowly on the question of circumvention as a “right” and as a one-size-fits-all technical boon that you want endlessly for everyone mainly for your own agenda. (Except when you don’t — Berkman Center has been busy downplaying circumvention as a tool, even as the State Department embraces it more in its Internet Freedom programs, for reasons that seem mainly to be about sectarian “progressive” politics.)

    The US government isn’t schizophrenic in calling for circumvention of some things (autocratic governments such as rule Russia, China, Iran, etc.) but not of others (the democratic liberal US itself). You seem to prefer to dwell on what you see as contradictions on their part in making these distinctions rather than explaining to us why you *don’t* make them.

    And this gets to the real issue, in my view. I’ve long critiqued Global Voices for not having a very clear-cut policy about publishing the works of authors who *use or advocate violence*. On the one hand, Ethan Zuckerman has talked about not wanting articles that incite violence. On the other hand, he talks vaguely about being “inclusive” and condemns another site that in fact has a very robust distinction about not publishing those who advocate violence.

    The responses I’ve received on why there is an “inclusive” policy about those seeming to advocate violence indicates to me that there is in reserve some defense of the pro-Palestinian bloggers and others advocating force.

    I think if Global Voices were more clearcut and more defined on this issue, then you could make the case better to NSF as to why your calls for circumvention are for powers that are justifiably doing that circumvention.

    You can’t seem to make up your minds where you will draw the line with your revolutions.

    So yeah, side-by-side with Chinese dissidents sounds like a good thing. But what other kinds of dissidents are we going to be side-by-side with? Because Global Voices seems to be side-by-side with Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, an anarchist collective which is actively inciting (and perhaps abetting) the theft of classified government documents.

    I mean, seriously guys, you can’t expect the USG to play your game, too.

  • No, just because the NSF unblocked you because you’re related to Harvard and agitated about it and got this one-off decision doesn’t mean you are “right” or that the issue of “circumvention of what” went away — it didn’t.

    Every single one of the issues I’ve rightly raised stands, and will continue to stand, and you may find the decision re-visited based on the content.

    So perhaps you could come clean on what sites *you* block. You seemed to indicate that you use the same kind of software, and you block references to proxy and circumvention sites, too, if I understood it correctly. So what’s that about?

    Do you think it is ever appropriate to block sites advocating proxies and circumvention, Jillian? Ever? For anything?

    I’m finding quite the irony in all this talk of political blocking, given that Global Voices moderates comments, sometimes taking a long time to do it, and yet for all its moderation, allows obvious hate comments (such as the false claim on the Belarus blogs that charter97.org, the leading independent web site in Belarus, is supported by the KGB — the typical hate comment of the Russian language blogosphere and one that shouldn’t have been allowed to stand given the “moderation” policy).

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