National Science Foundation Blocks Global Voices Advocacy

Last Wednesday, Berkman Senior Researcher Ethan Zuckerman reported that the National Science Foundation’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., had blocked the Global Voices Advocacy website. A friend of Zuckerman’s reported that he could not access an article published on GVA using a NSF computer. When GVA inquired NSF’s commercial filtering provider Blue Coat about the reason, they responded,

“The website has verbiage indicating how to avoid proxy filtering, which clearly violates our security policy and therefore will remain blocked.”

As a non-profit organization that tracks Internet censorship across the globe and spreads knowledge about online filtering, GVA publishes information to teach others—specifically, online activists in developing countries that place restrictions on Internet content—how to circumvent domestic Internet filtering. However, Zuckerman noted the circular reasoning of this specific incident:

“In other words, the National Science Foundation is spending taxpayer money to (ineffectively) prevent scientists from learning about a debate about ‘internet freedom’ tools the US State Department and the Broadcasting Board of Governors are spending taxpayer money to support and promote, again using taxpayer money. Is there a Federal irony department where I can lodge a complaint?”

A day later, a commenter who went by JeffAlex suggested that the block is related to a general lock-down on the entire NSF network, due to evidence from two years ago that NSF employees were watching porn on the system’s computers. He went on to say:

“This is an instance of unintended consequences rather than malevolent intent. … Obviously, there’s no point in trying to lock down a network unless you also try to lock down any access to sites that can tell you how to circumvent the lockdown. So, this is less about Internet or academic freedom than it is about simple inside-the-Beltway politics.”

For more information, read Jillian York’s report on Global Voices Advocacy.

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About the Author: Qichen Zhang

Qichen is an undergraduate studying Social Studies at Harvard College. Besides Herdict, she blogs for the Berkman Center's OpenNet Initiative and Blogging Common. She can be reached at qzhang@fas.harvard.edu.

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