Peacefire, an anti-censorware site, says that journalists at the LA Times have told them that the LA Times has begun to censor the Internet feed in its newsroom. LA Observed says that the Times told them it uses Websense to restrict reporters' access to the Internet, and that peacefire.org is blocked in the newsroom, along with many other sites.
This is the first example I've heard of a Western newspaper censoring its reporters' Internet feeds. The companies that sell censorware services deliver a notoriously biased and Orwellian system. For example, sites like Peacefire and Boing Boing, which report on the bad judgement in these services and expose their technical failings, are classed as "proxy avoidance."
Once you start writing checks to these companies, they stop letting you see the sites that tell you why you should stop.
Some of these companies also provide censorship services to repressive governments, like those in China and Syria. A company called SmartFilter provides such services to several governments; they offered to stop censoring Boing Boing if we would accept a secret deal to restructure our site to make it easier for them to block parts of it.
The LA Times has previously reported favorably on Peacefire's groundbreaking efforts to expose the corruption and bias in censorware companies. Now that the Times's reporters can no longer visit Peacefire's website, I suppose we shouldn't expect more articles on those lines.
Reporters working in the L.A . Times have informed me that Internet access in their newsrooms is filtered, although we haven't determined what program they're using. In the L.A. bureau, reporters can't access sites like Playboy.com and are also blocked from accessing Peacefire.org, and I had to give a reporter the address of a Circumventor site so that he could get to our home page. In the San Francisco bureau, the filtering is apparently less restrictive, since Peacefire.org and Playboy.com are accessible, but the more hard-core Penthouse.com is not.
It's the first time I've heard of blocking software being used in the newsroom of a major newspaper, so I wanted to tell the reporters on this list — except that, you know what would be, like, really funny, is that we should keep it secret from the idealistic young high school newspaper reporter who is dreaming of the day she'll escape from the censorious clutches of her school, and get a job as a real reporter for the L.A. Times.
Update: An informant notes, "The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation uses Websense to filter internet access. It even prevents the playing of YouTube videos because its streaming server is blocked under 'Hacking.'"
Update 2: A reader writes, "I work for a local CBS affiliate in Michigan and our newsroom has the Internet censored too. The IT guys have installed surfcontrol as per corporate policy. Sadly funny, because the station is owned by Freedom Broadcasting.
My news director (head news guy) didn't even know about it until I brought it to his attention. He made a fuss and was quietly shut down by upper management.
They justify it by saying people were messing around playing games at work.
A few months ago we were looking for background on a neo-Nazi group that was holding demonstrations at the capitol. We couldn't get to any of their sites for information.
To top it off, the censorware is stupid! Just last night I was looking up some info on praying mantids and one of the sites was blocked. It happens all the time for totally innocuous things."
Update 3: A reader writes, "I work for a news/broadcasting organisation and it uses Smartfilter in a rather better way than these corporations use WebSense. If you go to a blocked site, you get a warning page but you can still continue. Your supervisor gets a report. It's annoying but at least if you're doing a piece on gambling, porn, or Nazis you can still get your damn work done."
Update 4: The NYT covers this story, too: "It just seemed odd that the class of people that we rely on for our information have less Internet freedom than a citizen in China."