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US National Science Foundation Blocking GV Advocacy

Categories: USA

Recently, the Global Voices  team learned that this site, https://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 [1], 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.