Blocked

Blocked

Update 4:35 PM ET: The USPTO responds to our inquiry as to what exactly their “blocking” policy is:

The USPTO does not have a policy of blocking political advocacy sites. We learned on September 19th that the third-party vendor that provides security for our wi-fi network used by the public at our Alexandria hq had applied an overly broad filter. That vendor is also the party that selected the specific sites that would be included in its filtering system. When we learned that political advocacy groups and news sites were being blocked, we immediately instructed that vendor to remove the filter. There has never been any such filter on the Internet access for USPTO employees or contractors.

To which I responded:

Can you tell me why the website had this message?  Did the vendor BlueCoat write it without the authorization of the USPTO?

Access Denied (content_filter_denied)

Your request was denied because this URL contains content that is categorized as: “Political/Activist Groups” which is blocked by USPTO policy. If you believe the categorization is inaccurate, please contact the USPTO Service Desk and request a manual review of the URL.

For assistance, contact USPTO OCIO IT Service Desk. (io-proxy4)

Their response: “Jane, we are looking into this right now and hope to get back to you shortly.”

Update 2:18 PM ET: BlueCoat’s category description of “activist sites.” And here’s the justification they gave for blocking “activist sites” in school systems.

Update 2:10 PM ET:  BlueCoat is also responsible for blocking the website of Global Voices Advocacy,  a free speech organization, from access at the National Science Foundation because it “has verbiage indicating how to avoid proxy filtering.”

Says Global Voices co-founder Ethan Zuckerman:

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.

Original Post:  Jamie Love of KEI was in a high level meeting at the US Patent and Trade Office yesterday on intellectual property and access to medicines. When he tried to access his site to demonstrate something to the attendees, he found that the WiFi system that the USPTO provides to the public would not allow access:

Access Denied (content_filter_denied)

Your request was denied because this URL contains content that is categorized as: “Political/Activist Groups” which is blocked by USPTO policy. If you believe the categorization is inaccurate, please contact the USPTO Service Desk and request a manual review of the URL.

For assistance, contact USPTO OCIO IT Service Desk. (io-proxy4)

Jamie found that many other sites “critical of the USPTO positions on intellectual property issues” had also been blocked. That list includes SOPA critics like Firedoglake, the ACLU, Citizen.Org, Daily Kos, RedState, TalkingPointsMemo and the EFF among others.

“Among the sites NOT BLOCKED were the industry lobby groups BSA, MPPA, RIIA, and PhRMA,” he notes.

USPTO staff at the meeting claimed to have no knowledge of why these websites were blocked, and claim that “the filter was implemented by a contractor.”

They USPTO subsequently “reviewed their policy” and removed the block. I spoke with Jamie this morning, who indicates that USPTO staff informed him that the government contractor who implemented the filter was a company called BlueCoat. Love says that BlueCoat provides services to a number of government agencies including the National Science Foundation, and that blocking “activist” sites seems to be on the menu of options for their services.

It’s indisputable that groups like the RIAA and PhRMA are actively lobbing the USPTO on issues, so it’s not clear why they do not fall under the category of “activists” too. This kind of selective suppression creates a huge impediment for watchdog organizations to surmount when attempting to get their message to policymakers.

“We want people who participate in these USPTO events to have access to our website and read what we write,” says Love. “We go to a lot of trouble to write about these things. If the people involved can’t read what we write about, then that’s a problem.”

I called the USPTO press office and asked what the specific policy is that allows them to do this. They did not know but indicated they would research it and get back to me.

h/t Morning Tech