&
The National Post
Wednesday, June 23, 1999

Bureaucrats denied access to porn, hate sites

by Michael Lewis

Ontario is introducing one of the country's most comprehensive Internet policing programs, by installing "filters" that will prevent civil servants from surfing the Web for sites promoting violence, hatred, and pornography.

Critics call the move a form of heavy-handed cyber-censorship, but the government says it is simply buying into the best principles of corporate management.

"We decided this was good governance", said Joan McCalla, chief strategist at the Management Board Secretariat, which is overseeing installation of the blocking software.

"It's not that this [civil servants surfing for sex] is an extensive problem, but we wanted to prevent it from becoming one", she said, adding that the need to improve productivity wasn't the main driver.

Ms. McCalla said a committee of deputy ministers approved filtering of Web site categories that "pertain to hate, crime, and pornography", with the policy applying to all computers linked to the government's network. About 65,000 employees will be affected.

Web-filtering software developers and Internet consultants say the Ontario action is unusual because it extends across all ministries and some closely linked agencies.

In most cases, they say, filtering is used selectively in homes, schools, public libraries, and, increasingly, in the corporate world. Surveys suggest that abuse of the Internet in the workplace reduces productivity.

Ms. McCalla said she's not aware of another province using widespread Web filtering.

A Quebec government spokesman said limited Web filtering is employed on its network, while an Alberta official said filtering "has not been an issue" there.

"We're in the business of providing access", he said. Spokesmen for other provinces said Web access by staff is being examined.

In Ottawa, federal policy governing electronic networks recommends "monitoring practices that strike a balance" between individual rights and the need to curb "unlawful usage", said a spokesman. It's up to individual departments to decide on measures to regulate the Net, he added.

In the U.S., federal policy discourages bureaucrats from using government computers and e-mail for non-government purposes, but physical restrictions are not in place.

Ontario, meanwhile, is installing inexpensive blocking software that includes upgrades of the so-called black list of inappropriate Web sites. Since the Web emerged in 1994 as a commercial medium, several programs have been developed to help corporations monitor and filter Internet access and e-mail.

The programs are used to filter pornography, violence, hate crimes, games, and gambling.

Software installed on the Ontario government network advises employees trying to access an off-limits Web page that the site is not accessible. A "feedback" button placed on the page will capture comments by employees.


Copyright © 1999 by The National Post. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission.