UPDATED 1/13/09

It started as an observation a few months ago when I noticed that although the visits to the blog were up, visits from state computers were down.

Then later, it was confirmed through off-the-cuff remarks by various state workers (including those at the CHRO — the state equivalent to the EEOC) that they could not access my blog anymore because the state blocked access to the site.

How curious, I thought, though I knew I was probably from unique. But I wondered what else the state was blocking.

Through some more digging, here’s what I’ve confirmed: First, any website that describes itself as a blog is apparently blocked through the state’s filters for the CHRO and some (but not all) state agencies.  

What does this mean in practical terms? The "news" side of the New York Times is not blocked but any article by a NYT columnist, such as Nobel Prize Winner Paul Krugman, is — along with any article in the Times that allows for comment (such as the breaking news "blogs", called The Lede) .  

And this site — which has blogged about CHRO topics, such as the CHRO’s own affirmative action plan that was recommended for disapproval, or about the trends found in the CHRO’s annual report — is also blocked. 

Of course, the filter isn’t just focused on blogs or the law. It also blocks items about personal health. So suppose a CHRO investigator needs to research whether diabetes could be considered a "chronic condition" in all cases — that too would be blocked.  (And don’t even ask about trying to access paid legal research sites such as Westlaw or LEXIS.)

Of course, rare exceptions can be sought, but CHRO workers and others first need to find a supervisor that has a password, and then worry about whether or not they are being tracked. As a practical matter, it’s an option that very few people seek or can use.

What I can’t determine is why the state filters out legitimate sites when it already has an acceptable use policy for its employees to follow.  In other words, why have a policy that allows for access to these sites if you are going to spend time and money creating filters that prevent access to it?  (The policy, in case you’re wondering, allows for "research…[into] state and federal legislation and regulations as they pertain to the user’s State position; obtaining information useful to users in their official capacity.)

While I am certainly one to preach employer oversight in allowing employees to access the internet , this is prime example of overkill by an employer.  Blogs, for example, today represent a primary source of information for many — particularly with mainstream newspapers being put up for sale or shrinking.  And lumping the SCOTUSblog in with Gawker, treats all blogs as if they were no more than gossip pages.  (And since when should the New York Times blogs be blocked?)  Moreover, blocking useful websites such as Findlaw should offend taxpayers in the state. Why would the state block access to a site that contains helpful information? 

The CHRO and other state agencies should re-evaluate their internet filters.  Making sure that state resources aren’t being used to allow access to pornography is laudable; having those same filters prevent employees from accessing useful information is not.  And if you don’t trust your employees to follow an acceptable use policy, why have one to begin with?

For private employers, take heed. In the quest to protect the company from liability for sexual harassment claims and to improve productivity, are you taking away the very tools that the internet can provide to your employees to succeed? If so, you’ve just made your competitors very happy. 

(For state workers and others who still want to access this site but are blocked at work, you can subscribe via e-mail or use RSS feeds, through a link here.)

[Ed. Note: An earlier version of this post indicated that the state also filtered Findlaw.  Although that fact had been confirmed through multiple sources, it appears that the ban on Findlaw was recently lifted and employees may access that site. This post has been updated to correct that information.]