Thursday, July 06, 2006

They Ain't Reading Me In Frankfort

Apparently believing those Chinese commies have the right idea, Kentucky Governor Ernie Fletcher has decided to forbid blog reading on the job for state employees, allegedly to prevent "desktop dawdling," like wasting time on sports or humor sites.

The real reason, as you might have expected, is a bit more complicated -- or actually not really that complicated at all. It's just good, old-fashioned political censorship:
Kentucky bloggers, especially of Democratic stripes, have been critical of Governor Fletcher's administration. One of the main chroniclers of perceived government missteps is Mark Nickolas, a Democratic political insider. After Mr. Nickolas criticized the governor in a New York Times article June 20, some 1,000 state workers who check his blog,, could no longer log on to it at work.

State officials say blocking Nickolas's site coincided with the state's blocking access to categories of sites that are considered time- wasting, including humor and sports sites. But restricting access to these sites has been spotty: Last week, state employees could log onto the "Simpsons" site, but not a Jewish website.

Such arbitrary results open the administration up to criticism, some say, especially when the blogs of Nickolas and Cross were blocked while the conservative Drudge Report website was not.
Fletcher has been having major corruption problems in his administration, which is threatening the Republican party's prospects in the coming elections.

Nickolas is considering suing on first amendment grounds -- arguing that blogs should have the same rights as newspapers, which state employees are allowed to read on the job.

The ban has, of course sparked a fierce battle between efficiency experts and civil rights defenders
Experts say that employers have wide latitude in telling workers how to spend their time. And blogs, known for constant updates, can consume more of employees' time since readers may go back several times a day. But banning any blog is a bad idea, especially when there are political overtones as in Nickolas's case, says Glenn Reynolds, author of "An Army of Davids" about the rise of a tech-enabled entrepreneurial class. "It looks petty, and it's probably ineffective," he says.

For their part, efficiency experts say Fletcher's administration is right to crack down on excessive blog-reading.

"I hear all this talk about the implementation of these technologies being some form of censorship, but there's nothing whatsoever keeping anybody from doing it when they go home," says Paul Henry, "security evangelist" at Secure Computing, a content filtering firm in San Diego. His company makes the WebWasher software Kentucky uses to "blacklist" websites.
And then there are those states that have decided to treat their employees like adults:
Some states don't mind incidental use of various websites. Alabama, South Dakota, and North Carolina allow state employees to log on occasionally as long as it doesn't interfere with work. "We try to treat people as adults," says Otto Doll, South Dakota's chief information officer.

A year ago, Alabama had no content filtering, and technology officials were told not to be the "moral police," says Alabama CIO Jim Burns. Some categories of sites, including pornography and gambling, are now blocked, he says, but not blogs.
As a blogger myself, I'm sure this is doing wonders for Bluegrass Report's readership numbers.

Hey over there at OSHA. Let me know if you're not able to read this.