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Response to "TSA to Block Controversial Opinion on the Web"

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Wednesday, July 07, 2010
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Our IT department recently sent out an internal memo about TSA's efforts to improve our information security and prevent violations to TSA's acceptable use policy for personal use of government computers. The memo made its way to members of the media and now many are asking why TSA blocks "controversial opinion?" Well, just as many other government entities and corporations, TSA uses a security technology that limits access to certain categories of websites that are known to pose an increased security risk or violate the acceptable use policy for government computers. "Controversial opinion" is one of many of those categories. This category is an IT software catch-all phrase used to describe sites that may pose a security risk or violate the acceptable use policy, such as sites that promote destructive behavior to one's self or others. After taking a closer look, TSA determined this category may contain some sites that do not violate our acceptable use policy. This category is no longer being considered for implementation. However, employees will still need to avoid those sites that do violate TSA's acceptable use policy while using government computers. TSA employees can access any websites required for purposes of performing their job functions, and if they lose access to something they need, the access can be restored by contacting TSA's Help Desk.

TSA does not block access to critical commentary about the organization. Take a look at the comments on this blog and you'll clearly see that we allow critical commentary. This isn't a case of TSA blocking controversial opinions. Our intent is not, and never has been, to limit our employees' ability to access controversial opinions.

Comments

Submitted by Gunner on

Sure.
We believe you.
Do you have any bridges for sale?

Submitted by Guitar Music Lessons on

@Gunner,

Seriously, don't you read the comments on this blog? I don't think that I've seen one single post that hasn't had at least one person ripping on TSA about one thing or another.

That's probably the one thing that I really compliment TSA for is that they're at least bold enough to allow comments to be shown that could potentially hurt them.

It shows that "Freedom of speech" still works in some instances.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Guitar Music Lessons sad:

"That's probably the one thing that I really compliment TSA for is that they're at least bold enough to allow comments to be shown that could potentially hurt them."

Actually they don't. I posted a comment this morning that does not violate the Comment Policy and was on topic.

Apparently it was just too controversial...

Submitted by Gunner on

@guitar

Thanks for helping make my point. One of TSA's biggest problems is they suffer froma severe credibility gap.

Yes, they allow some critical comments, but any one of us who have followed this blog since its inception have had critical comments deleted. A lot of us understand that -- I've been a comments/posting moderator in other places, and it is a thankless job that is constantly double guessed. In that regard TSA does as well as some and better than many. They are not particularly heavy handed.

Where TSA shows a weakness in this blog comes in the following areas: (in my opinion only)

1. The publish what clearly appear to be public relations/marketing pieces without acknowledging such. Had they said that the above post was generated or written by TSA public relations, I wouldn't have been as dubious. When they do this, Blogger Bob's credibilty takes a shot.
2. They are not very candid. There are lots and lots of standing questions that they choose to ignore. If they simply said they are not going to respond to certain questions, their credibility would go up. Dodging or ignoring questions makes them seen dishonest and evasive (see comment #1).
3. They spend too much time chasing their own tails. If the major media has an article on TSA -- BAM -- there is an almost immediate response. A 6-year old on the DNF list, however, gets a very rare comment.
4. Can you spell p-u-p-p-y---p-o-s-t-s? Isn't it funny that they almost always appear when the temperature on this forum gets really hot -- and every time they do it is shows the distain they have for their visitors.
5. They often appear to be covering up for organizational disfunction. TSA is an organization that is seemingly out of control, where each station acts as if it is a fifedom, able to interpret the rules however they choose. Barney Fife would be at home here. The blog empowers that kind of behavior by apparently ignoring reports of wrongdoing.
6. Too many sock puppets. Virtually every post that contains the phrase "you people" is from a TSA sock puppet. If TSA put in a policy that any TSA employees posting on the blog must (even if posting anonymously) must include the line: I am a TSA employee. That would boost credibility.

I could go on and on......

Submitted by Anonymous on

I have to wonder if the TSA ever thin,s before it implements any policy. It seems that the TSA implements policies, ignores civil rights and intelligence in general with its policies, and then has to backtrack once those policies are made available to the public.

It would be nice if the "well-trained" workforce at the TSA would actually use intelligence in creating policies, as opposed to reactionary policies. Of course, it would also be nice if the people who work for the TSA had the ability to understand how to use empirical data and knowledge to make decisions as opposed to simply making decisions based on preconceived notions and a lack of knowledge in general

Submitted by TSO Tom on

So Bob, what you're saying is this decision was made AFTER the leak of the memo to the media? Or was it a legit decision based on sound knowledge of IT security vulnerbilities?

Submitted by SnallaBolaget on

@GML - I agree with you; the TSA has been bold to put this blog up and allowing for critical comments (in some cases extremely critical).

The policy of blocking some internet content is widespread in both private and public sector, and I can tell you that the DoS, for example, blocks a massive amount of content from its employees, and restricts even more to use only when there's a documented need.

Then again, private companies use blocking tools as well, to protect their time and money. Anyone who has ever had the agony of meeting WebSense knows this.

Submitted by Andy on

I disagree with Anonymous. I've seen PLENTY of comments approved that openly ribs TSA and puts them down, sometimes a bit over the line.

I don't like what TSA does sometimes, and some of their policies are especially asinine, but we have to show Bob some respect. It's not an easy job dealing with the public, especially when you're the face of a federal agency that many people hate.

So, I do applaud Bob and other TSA bloggers for approving comments, even if they are off-topic or openly put TSA down. Yes, freedom of speech is important, but this is a blog, and TSA does have the right to moderate comments. In person, it's a different story. The same applies to any blog, either privately or government-owned.

If your comment did not go through the first time, perhaps you can try re-submitting the comment, or email Bob for clarification?

Andrew

Submitted by Anonymous on

"I've seen PLENTY of comments approved that openly ribs TSA and puts them down,"

Yes Andy, we all have.

And some of us have submitted on topic posts that were compliant with the posting guidelines and had them arbitrarily rejected.

We have also seen posts that were approved using bad judgement just disappear later on.

Submitted by Anonymous on

"So, I do applaud Bob and other TSA bloggers for approving comments that openly ribs TSA and puts them down..."

Do you applaud Bob for deleting posts that showed he used bad judgement in approving them?

Bob once told us that he would note when posts were redacted.

That has not happened.

If I missed a post where he announced he would not be able to do what he told us please point me to it.

Submitted by RB on

TSO Tom said...
So Bob, what you're saying is this decision was made AFTER the leak of the memo to the media? Or was it a legit decision based on sound knowledge of IT security vulnerbilities?

July 7, 2010 6:59 PM
.................
That seems to sum it up very well.

TSA released a letter to employees that made it to the media who let the American people see what DHS/TSA really is.

Then DHS/TSA didn't have the backbone to stand its ground.

Good job DHS/TSA!

Submitted by TSO Tom on

TSO Tom said...
So Bob, what you're saying is this decision was made AFTER the leak of the memo to the media? Or was it a legit decision based on sound knowledge of IT security vulnerbilities?

July 7, 2010 6:59 PM
.................
That seems to sum it up very well.

TSA released a letter to employees that made it to the media who let the American people see what DHS/TSA really is.

Then DHS/TSA didn't have the backbone to stand its ground.

Good job DHS/TSA!

July 8, 2010 8:21 PM
***********************************
RB, I am in a way glad that TSA opted not to block controversial opinions, because that would include union activity, which every TSA employee already knows (or at least they should know) should not be accessed from TSA computers, but the ability to do so should not be taken away from us. By the way, I was playing devil's advocate in my question to Bob, because I knew that some anon would come along and ask the same question....why stay anonymous when I can put myself out there? Besides, how often do I get to use TSA computers?

Submitted by Sarah on

What I want to know is why would any employee of any agency use in house computers to do anything other what they are supposed to anyway...especially a government agency?

They monitor everything else going on in the world but employees think they wouldn't monitor their own computers. Idiots!

Of course people will have something controversial to say...Let all comments stand as it plays for better blog interaction if nothing else.

People will have their own opinions regardless of what negative or positive thing one may say.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Why do we need a TSA, all security efforts (along with everything else) should be privatized.

Submitted by Tara on

This is so silly. I work for a fortune 100 company and we have the same block on our content filtering application. If it happens to pick up something you need to do your job, you can request to have it whitelisted. guess what, it rarely does. people need to find something new to complain about.

Submitted by Anonymous on

You people are so bitter dont you have something better to do with your time?

Submitted by Mark Sierra on

I've worked for companies before who have encountered this same thing with the catch-all category catching too much. I think they were a little more restrictive at first because it was all new to them, but eventually, like you found out as well, they came to realize that filtering of this sort requires human intervention to ensure accuracy.

Submitted by TSO on

So since I can't access sites like The Washington Post or CNN or other news related sites because it's "Controversial" we should also block our very own TSA.gov website b/c the AIT & other TSA related uses is also controversial.

I do have a point.

Submitted by Gunner on

Anonymous said...

You people are so bitter...
------
Another TSA employee contributes to the discourse.
Submitted by Anonymous on

sarah said...
What I want to know is why would any employee of any agency use in house computers to do anything other what they are supposed to anyway...especially a government agency?

They monitor everything else going on in the world but employees think they wouldn't monitor their own computers. Idiots!

Of course people will have something controversial to say...Let all comments stand as it plays for better blog interaction if nothing else.

People will have their own opinions regardless of what negative or positive thing one may say.

July 9, 2010 9:01 PM
***********************************
Sarah, believe it or not, some employees have actually used the computers for activity other than what is permitted. I logged on yesterday and saw a new banner that never existed previously, it would appear that TSA is putting employees on notice that certain behavior will not be tolerated, and that there is no reasonable expectation of privacy. I myself have no problem per-se with the policy, what intrigues me is that they changed their tune AFTER it was leaked to the media. I feel if they were going to do it they should have done it and let it be....if you're not going to let it be, then don't do it to begin with. Yes employers have the right to monitor what employees are doing on company terminals, and yes they have the right to determine what is acceptable and what is not, because they invest money in the network, and one virus on one terminal can infect the entire network. BUT....when you set a policy then change it after the fact, it makes you look bad.....like maybe you only changed it because word got out about it. Especially to the media, controversial opinion...wow that could affect a whole lot of things, from union activity on down to talks against the government. So the media spins the free speech web, and TSA backs down. Why not just stick to your original decision and let employees seek approval for anything that may be required for official use? Is union activity official use? I would say no....would it be acceptable to go to a web site that suggests overthrowing the government? Obviously that is considered the extreme end of controversial opinion, so how do you filter one without filerting the other, which employees should already know not to access from company computers? Here's an idea: If an employee wants to access information that is considered to be "controversial opinion" they should do so on their own computers, on their own time, then TSA would not have to apply filters to thier computers systems, right? Sounds easy.

Submitted by Chris Boyce on

Anonymous, obviously a TSA employee, on July 9, 2010, at 9:01 PM, said to Citizen Sarah:

"Sarah, believe it or not, some employees have actually used the computers for activity other than what is permitted. I logged on yesterday and saw a new banner that never existed previously, it would appear that TSA is putting employees on notice that certain behavior will not be tolerated, and that there is no reasonable expectation of privacy."

Are you telling me that this is the first time in the ~8 year existence of the TSA that this OMB-required warning notice is now just being placed on TSA computers?

Everyone of your CIOs and everyone of the DHS's CIOs need to be fired or brought back into government service and fired.

Bob, we'd like to know from you, with a reasonable level of credibility and verification, how long the TSA existed before this warning banner was installed on your computer systems. We'd like exact dates that the TSA was established and when the required banner and accompanying restrictions went into place. If it's not the same date for both, we'd like an explanation.

Submitted by Anonymous on

"Everyone of your CIOs and everyone of the DHS's CIOs need to be fired or brought back into government service and fired."

lol

wot?

Conscript them? Then what?

Fire 'em? From what? A cannon?

Submitted by Gene Gill on

RE: Sara
How do regular businesses handle this issue? Do they let their employees surf around the web where ever they want to go?

some do - and they pay a heavy price!!!

What is wrong with the other 16 hours of the day...? surely that is enough time for these employees to what they need to do then.

RE: Anonymous
I agree - privatize the tsa (and most other gov agencies)

Submitted by Anonymous on

Anonymous said...
Why do we need a TSA, all security efforts (along with everything else) should be privatized.

July 10, 2010 12:12 AM

It used to be. Then people wanted the government to protect them. And now you want things to go back the way they were? No wonder everything is screwed up, you people cant make up your crazed nutty minds...

Submitted by Peter on

Using a computer at your place of employment doesn't give you a claim to do whatever you want. The TSA must of read the impact of paying people to surf the web at work report.

Good for them, maybe more time would be spent on the customers instead of doing nothing.

The TSA seems to be fine in letting tough comments through, BUT this is their blog. You want to rant and rave, start your own blog and say what you want to say.

And know I don't work for the TSA.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Is the TSA still issuing take-down notices to bloggers who post comments critical of their Officers?

Submitted by Anonymous on

Is the TSA still sending TSOs to the houses of bloggers who criticize you and taking their computers?

Submitted by Anonymous on

"It used to be. Then people wanted the government to protect them."

Which people? There were plenty of objections to the creation of TSA.

"No wonder everything is screwed up, you people cant make up your crazed nutty minds..."

So it's our fault that puffer machines are laying around idle, money is wasted on SPOT voodoo, TSA staff don't know rules and often make their own up, etc?

Sounds like a comment from a "crazed nutty mind".

Submitted by Kids Musical In... on

While the TSA is certainly not the most liked agency it is good to see that they do allow some criticism. I'm sure it is moderated though.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Sorry as much as I dislike the hate filled content of parts of the internet that I don't go to this is the start of tyranny. Once the government has the ability to declare and block communication by fiat it can control and shape public opinion. Once free speech is partially blocked it is a loss of freedom.
If they wish to block some thing it needs to be very very narrowly defined and available for public scrutiny.

Submitted by Anonymous on

If I didn't want to be screened, how is a pat-down going to find powder explosives? For example, what if someone made a pair of underpants that was lined evenly with an explosive powder between 2 layers of material. how is a pat down going to find that if the person does not want to be screened? Feeling someone's groin or breast areas is not going to be able to detect that.

Submitted by Pankywitz on

Read these comments. Most of the comments on here attack TSA in very "controversial" ways.

Submitted by Jeremy Spencer on

The TSA has been known to take alot of criticism, that is a good sign at least :)

Submitted by Seagulls6 on

It is OK to take the criticism, good on them for doing it. But it doesn't really mean anything if nothing is done about the criticism that they are getting.

Submitted by Dzi on

@ Andy

You wrote "Yes, freedom of speech is important, but this is a blog, and TSA does have the right to moderate comments"

There's more to working with social media for corporations than just having a block and allowing/erasing negative comments. Criticism should be considered and turned around. One can ride a wave of criticism into a constructive social media activity or a PR virus.

Submitted by KidRid on

Dzi said....

"There's more to working with social media for corporations than just having a block and allowing/erasing negative comments. Criticism should be considered and turned around. One can ride a wave of criticism into a constructive social media activity or a PR virus."

Here Here....now that is a vote in favor of free speech.

Submitted by Urban Homesteader on

I agree with Dzi and KidRid. This is a government agency and it should listen to the opinions of the people. In fact, I would hold the government to a higher level of measure for the support of our free speech (positive or negative) than a private company or citizen.

Submitted by Music Maroczik on

WSP: 'Heroic' TSA agents saved man, woman from burning car