A friend linked me to “US National Science Foundation blocks Global Voices Advocacy website” by Ethan Zuckerman. In this post, Ethan discusses how the National Science Foundation (NSF), which (for those unfamiliar with the Internet’s history) in 1986 funded NSFNet as a cross country 56 Kbps backbone for academic purposes, essentially the first significant University computer internetwork, and thus the first Internet, blocked a website he and a number of other Internet freedom advocates write for:
[O]ne of the main functions of Global Voices Advocacy is to provide information to people in repressive nations so they can seek and publish information freely online.
After confirming from NSF officials that “the blockage is not in error,” Ethan states the almost too-obvious-to-be-deemed-important note:
[T]he National Science Foundation is spending taxpayer money to (ineffectively) prevent scientists from learning about a debate about “internet freedom” tools the US State Department and the Broadcasting Board of Governors are spending taxpayer money to support and promote, again using taxpayer money.
Is there a Federal irony department where I can lodge a complaint?
As if that wasn’t ludicrous enough, check out this explanation by JeffAlex in the comments:
This is an instance of unintended consequences rather than malevolent intent. The fact is, a few senior NSF employees got dinged a couple of years ago for viewing porn on their work computers. A Republican Senator took this up as an excuse to argue for budget cuts at NSF, the NSF got spooked, and NSF IT got the word that they should lock down the entire agency’s network. Obviously, there’s no point in trying to lock down a network unless you also try to lock down any access to sites that can tell you how to circumvent the lockdown. So, this is less about Internet or academic freedom than it is about simple inside-the-Beltway politics.
(Emphasis mine.) Others seem to agree. My own correspondence with government employees in other agencies also supports the explanation.
Ethan’s snark is well deserved:
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.
Well done, American bureaucrats. You self-defeating fucking morons.