Through a Filter, Darkly

I’m sure providing technology services in large organizations
must be a pain to do. I mean, you have to tread a delicate balance between
locking everything down, and therefore making it impossible to do the
work the organization is supposed to do, and leaving the barn doors
wide open, letting in all kinds of vermin.

One of these dilemmas is web surfing. In the Internet world
that we live in, both public and private agencies need to provide access to
resources that make meeting the agency’s mission more efficient. On the
other hand, accountability may require limits be
imposed.

Before I go farther, let me say I understand the problems
involved in marking these limits. In fact, I understand them so well, I wonder
if any technology is/can be successful in doing this.

Typically, this technology involves the use of filtering. That
is, like your email spam filters, there are computer programs that try
to scan for certain markers that are common to sites that are
inappropriate for office use. The problem is, no set of filters can be
100 percent accurate. There will be errors. In some cases, legitimate
articles will be blocked. In other cases, questionable content will be
let through. Usually, if you try to take into account one end of the
spectrum, you run into problems with the other end,

So, you either end up compromising to find a balance, or you
error on the side of what some would describe as safety – which
guarantees the blocking of some legitimate sites.

Being a person that appreciates the free and unfettered
exchange of ideas as the best way to ensure freedom and democracy, I’m not a big
fan of the unsophisticated use of filters. Especially filters that are
so broad that legitimate discussion is blocked.

For example, for awhile, the filters our organization uses
blocked all access to .org domains. Obviously, many legitimate sites were
blocked. Such sites included the National Center for State Courts and
the Hawaii State Bar Association. For me, blocking these sites made
life very difficult. Although access to .org domains were eventually
liberalized, there are still sites that are banned
and require a manual request and justification
process that takes days, if not weeks to complete.

Let me give you one tech related example that happened this
morning. Someone wrote what appears to be an article about the old NCSA
Mosaic
browser. Mosaic wasn’t the first Internet browser, but as far as I
could remember, it was the first that I ever used. So, I have a lot of
good memories relating to it. It is interesting to note that, in many
ways, you could say Mosaic was the mother of both Netscape and Internet
Explorer (both of which licensed technology used in Mosaic.
In fact, up through at least IE 6.0, if you clicked on Help/About Internet
Explorer – you would see the Mosaic name at the top of the list). So
when I was at Techmeme and saw what looked like a link to an article
about Mosaic , I clicked on the link. Unfortunately, the article seems
to be on a site that is blocked by the filters because it is a “game”
site. Since I can’t get to the article, I can’t say what it’s about.
Perhaps it is
game related. If so, then I guess you could say the filters worked
correctly.

Some would even say that it doesn’t matter if it is game
related because even an article about Mosaic is not directly related to
my job duties. Narrowly defined, they might have a case. But
understanding where you are and where you want to go is very
much based where you’ve been. If you don’t understand your past, your
vision towards the future will, inevitably, be less sharp.
And that, will impact how well I can do my job.

Okay, so what’s the solution? I don’t know. All I can say is
filtering is not perfect and will be a greater impediment to doing our
jobs the more stringent they become. YMMV. Insert disclaimer here.

Aloha!

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