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News Link • Government Waste

House votes to block Net porn on government PCs

• Declan McCullagh

A recent vote in the U.S. House of Representatives seemed straightforward enough: government computers must block viewing or downloading porn.

After all, a series of news reports have highlighted, in scandalous detail, how some financial regulators earning six-figure salaries were watching porn at work as Wall Street imploded. So, as it turns out, did employees of the National Science Foundation and the Interior Department--including ones who were supposed to be inspecting oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico.

But the exact wording of the legislation (PDF) that the House approved last week by a 239-to-182 vote could, civil libertarians warn, go too far and unreasonably infringe on Americans' First Amendment rights.

The measure, which arrived in the form of an 111-page amendment sponsored by House Appropriations Chairman David Obey, a Wisconsin Democrat, says on the second-to-last page: "None of the funds made available in this act may be used to maintain or establish a computer network unless such network blocks the viewing, downloading, and exchanging of pornography."

That choice of wording could sweep in government contractors as well as federal agencies, says John Morris, general counsel for the Center for Democracy and Technology in Washington, D.C.

 
 

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