TSA reverses policy on "controversial opinion" sites

Last week, TSA issued a memo to its employees that announced a new policy of filtering Internet access, and that among the sites to be blocked were those offering “controversial opinions.”  After CBS reported the memo, conservative bloggers and the ACLU found some rare common ground for protest.  Initially, TSA said that the memo didn’t refer to politics, but now the Washington Times reports that they’ve revised the policy anyway (via Weasel Zippers):

After an uproar from conservative bloggers and free-speech activists, the Transportation Security Administration late Tuesday rescinded a new policy that would have prevented employees from accessing websites with “controversial opinions” on TSA computers at work.

The ban on “controversial opinion” sites, issued late last week, was included as part of a more general TSA Internet-usage policy blocking employee access to gambling and chat sites, as well as sites that dealt with extreme violence or criminal activity.

But the policy itself became controversial as the Drudge Report and a number of conservative bloggers highlighted the possibility that the policy could be used to censor websites critical of the agency or of the Obama administration in general. The American Civil Liberties Union also questioned the language.

TSA spokeswoman Lauren Gaches said the agency’s revised “acceptable use” policy for Internet access on the agency’s network was designed to block sites “that promote destructive behavior to one’s self or others.”

“After further review, TSA determined the ‘controversial opinion’ category may contain some sites that do not violate TSA‘s policy and therefore has concluded that the category is no longer being considered for implementation,” she said in an e-mail to The Washington Times.

Smart move, especially after the ACLU hinted at getting involved.  And it’s the right move.  No one should play censor on political opinions inside of a government bureaucracy.  Blocking all sites with political opinions would be acceptable, but that would mean TSA employees would not have access to any newspaper, magazine, television, and radio station website in the US.  I think they’ll have a similar issue with determining what falls into the “gruesome content” category, but that doesn’t touch on political speech and freedom of expression and will therefore be less fraught with controversy.

Perhaps the better policy would be to limit Internet access to only those in TSA who require it for their jobs.  The new policy looked like an attempt to correct a productivity issue, and that has a rather simple if morale-bruising solution.