It’s true that many private companies and federal agencies block employee access to websites deemed either inappropriate or unnecessary for conducting business. Such policies often make sense, as the Internet, for all its time-saving capabilities, can also be a huge temptation and time-waster.
So, what to make of the recent news that employees at the Transportation Security Administration were blocked, as of July 1, from accessing any websites that fall into the following categories: “Chat/messaging; Criminal activity; Extreme violence (including cartoon violence) and gruesome content; Gaming; and Controversial opinion.”
You can certainly make the case that siphons of our hard-earned tax dollars shouldn’t be frittering away the day instant-messaging friends, learning how to make bombs, viewing celebrity autopsy photos or playing Pac-Man … but what is “controversial opinion”? What falls into that category? The Drudge Report? Fox News? WorldNetDaily? Any website that dares question or publish criticism of the logic behind the Obama administration’s policy decisions?
It’s worth pointing out that pornography doesn’t make the list of banned websites. This is perhaps due to sensitivity on the part of Homeland Security chief Janet Napolitano, showing deference to the well-known favorite pastime of federal “workers.”
Yesterday, TSA announced that it’s backing off the plan to block “controversial opinion” sites, no doubt because of intense media scrutiny. But still, why did TSA venture down this road in the first place? Lacking a detailed explanation from Napolitano or anyone at TSA, we’re left to speculate as to what “controversial opinion” websites they wanted to blacklist – and why.
In my book, “Shut Up, America! The End of Free Speech,” I chronicle episodes where President Obama displayed incredibly thin skin at the slightest criticism – such as when his campaign tried to bully Chicago radio station WGN in barring two authors, who were Obama critics, from receiving any airtime.
In her short tenure, Obama’s hand-picked security chief has displayed a similar penchant for using power to silence critics – most notably when her Homeland Security Department released a report labeling gun owners, Christians and limited-government advocates “right-wing extremists” and “potential terrorists” who ought to be closely monitored.
And just a few weeks ago, Napolitano declared that the federal government needs the ability to monitor Americans’ Internet communications to fight homegrown terrorism.
“We can significantly advance security without having a deleterious impact on individual rights in most instances,” she said. “At the same time, there are situations where trade-offs are inevitable.” Ben Franklin, arguably a deeper thinker than Napolitano, warned of just such a foolish trade-off.
So it shouldn’t be shocking to anyone that Napolitano might want to shield her employees from any criticism of her, or the Obama administration itself, as a way of keeping TSA workers unflinchingly loyal to whatever blatantly unconstitutional mission they’re asked to carry out. Joe the Bureaucrat is much more likely to comb through the e-mails of Mary the Christian or Harry the Gun Owner if he’s shut off from reading any arguments as to why what he’s doing is a violation of the Constitution. Control information and the media and you can control the people. Just ask George Orwell or Kim Jong Il.
Upon taking office, President Obama famously promised that his would be the most “transparent” administration in history. Here’s yet another opportunity for him to make good on this promise. He should simply make public a list of all the websites TSA blocked its employees from viewing.
Wise readers won’t hold their breath waiting for this list to materialize.