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Sunday, 6 January 2013

Pentagon bans gay sites

Only recently has the Pentagon been willing to let lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans openly serve in the military, but it seems the Defense Department still isn’t too keen on the LGBT community.

AmericaBlog, a self-described progressive journal of news and opinion, has published an article discussing how the US Department of Defense has blocked internal computers from accessing a number of websites that are categorizes as “LGBT.”
John Aravosis of AmericaBlog writes this week that a handful of gay-friendly websites, including one for an association of actively-serving LGBT military personnel, has been blocked from Pentagon computers.
“It’s bad enough the United States Department of Defense censors Towleroad and AMERICAblog – banning the gay civil rights Web sites from being accessed on DOD computers – and it’s even worse that the Pentagon has no problem permitting their computers to access Ann Coulter’s and Rush Limbaugh’s hate-filled Web sites,” Aravosis writes.
Indeed, the blogger includes a screen shot alleged to have been made from a computer connected to the US Air Force’s computer network that shows Towelroad, a website that specializes in politics and gay culture news, has been blocked. On the “Access Denied” screen he includes in his blog post, he highlights the line that shows towelroad.com has been blocked because it has been categorized as being “LGBT.”
Outserve.org, the website for an organization with 4,000 members and deemed “one of the largest LGBT employee resource groups in the world,” is also inaccessible through the Pentagon.
Outserve describes itself as working to support “a professional network of LGBT military personnel and create an environment of respect in the military with regard to sexual orientation and gender identity.” Aravosis adds that Outserve has also been an active opponent of the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy, the ban on openly serving that has only recently been lifted. According to AmericaBlog, the communications director for OutServe-SLDN confirmed through one of their military members that their site is indeed blocked by the Pentagon.
“I wonder if the Pentagon has a censorship category titled Jewish, African-American, or ‘Latino,’” Aravosis asks. Although all Americans are now open to serve in the military, the Defense Department seems to be rather selective with what kind of content — even content geared towards its own personnel — can peruse.
“The LGBT filter existed before the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, but still has not been fixed.And the Pentagon was notified of the problem as early as last summer, 2012.Yet no one’s gotten around to doing anything about it,” he writes.
The screenshots published on AmericaBlog reveal that the Pentagon relies on California-based Blue Coat Systems, an Internet security company, for its Web filtering. Investor’s Business Daily notes in a 2009 article that Blue Coat has at one time or another provided services for major corporations, governments and telecom companies, including AT&T, Verizon and Sprint. They are perhaps best known, however, for a 2011 expos√© in the Wall Street Journal that revealed that products distributed by the billion-dollar IT company had made it to Syria, where the government was implementing those tools to spy on citizens. A trade embargo between the US and Syria would have prevented Blue Coat’s products from being used, but company executives nonetheless confirmed that at least 13 devices were being used in Syria at the time of the article.
On their website, Blue Coat has published a statement that advises their clients that websites branded as “LGBT” do not necessarily warrant censoring.
“[S]ome of our customers may be blocking the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (“LGBT”) category in the belief that the websites in this category contain sexually explicit content,” the statement reads. “In an effort to further clarify that the LGBT category is not intended to capture sexually explicit content, we have updated the category's description.”
Per Blue Coat’s updated criteria, sites are categorized as LGBT if they “provide reference materials, news, legal information, anti-bullying and suicide-prevention information and other resources for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender ("LGBT") people or that relate to LGBT civil rights.”
“The websites included in this category were selected because they do not contain sexually explicit content and are generally suitable for viewing by all age groups,” adds Blue Coat. “Customers – including schools, libraries and other public institutions – do not need to block the LGBT category to prevent users from accessing sexually explicit content, whether LGBT-related or otherwise.”
The fact that the Pentagon wound censor servicemen from accessing content categorized as LGBT contradicts a statement from Defense Secretary Leon Panetta last year in which he said, “Going forward, I remain committed to removing as many barriers as possible to make America’s military a model of equal opportunity, to ensure all who are qualified can serve in America’s military, and to give every man and woman in uniform the opportunity to rise to their highest potential.”
In 2011, the American Civil Liberties Union threatened to take legal action against the Prince William County School Board in Virginia after they became aware that students within the district were unable to access LGBT sites. When the Board responded by honoring the ACLU’s request to remove the filter, ACLU Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis said, “We commend Prince William school officials for removing this discriminatory LGBT filter, which serves no purpose but to deprive students of important educational materials and resources.”
“Of course, if the software company the school used had not provided them with the tools to specifically censor LGBT websites this might never have occurred,” added Willis.
Blue Coat categorizes the Web into dozens of sections for filtering purposes, which include “adult/mature,” “instant messaging,” “child pornography,” “hacking” and “entertainment,” as well as “LGBT” and “Alternative sexuality.”

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