AMERICAblog has been raising awareness over the past week about a problematic Internet filtering problem at the Pentagon, and rightfully so. Apparently, a preponderance of LGBT news sites have been blocked by the DOD, including AMERICAblog, Towleroad, Good As You, The Bilerico Project, Pam’s House Blend, The Advocate, and the Human Rights Campaign’s blog. (According to our sources, ThinkProgress and our LGBT vertical remain available.) Though the filtering itself is a problem, the Pentagon’s response has been that much more troubling.
On Friday, the DOD released a statement on its Facebook page completely obfuscating the situation:
We’ve received some questions/comment recently about DOD’s web access policies, and wanted to provide this statement:
The Department of Defense does not block LGBT websites. The pages referenced in several recent articles were denied access based on web filters blocking the “Blog/Personal Pages” category, not the specific sites themselves. While individuals on a DoD system may visit portions of the main websites (i.e., www.towleroad.com, www.AMERICAblog.com), certain additional links/pages – to include personal blogs – are blocked. Personal pages and blogs are blocked in accordance with DoD policy allowing military commanders the option to restrict access to personal pages for operational security reasons.
As AMERICAblog’s John Aravosis points out, this statement does not withstand scrutiny on multiple counts. First of all, the filtration software specifically identifies the sites as “LGBT” as a reason for being blocked. Secondly, this doesn’t explain why plenty of anti-gay conservative blogs and personal pages are not blocked, including RedState, Breitbart, the Family Research Council’s blog, the National Organization for Marriage’s blog, and Ann Coulter’s and Glenn Beck’s personal sites. There is also no explanation how LGBT content could threaten national security, though of course the filters could predate the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell when this question was considered controversial.
It also seems that there is little consistency throughout the system, with different divisions being controlled differently. Aravosis has identified that the DOD uses a filtration software known as Blue Coat, the same software used by a number of oppressive regimes and LGBT-unfriendly countries, including Syria, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Qatar. Blue Coat has also problematically blocked LGBT sites in many school districts, including anti-bullying and anti-suicide resources like The Trevor Project. The ACLU has successfully sued many schools not to block such sites, and has specifically raised issue with Blue Coat’s software. Blue Coat responded explaining that its “LGBT” category is not meant to address sexually explicit material:
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. WebFilter contains separate and distinct categories for sexually explicit content and other adult material (e.g., Adult/Mature Content, Alternative Sexuality/Lifestyles, Nudity and Pornography), which can be blocked to prevent access to sexually explicit content. Further, blocking the LGBT category is not recommended as a tool for public institutions to comply with the Children’s Internet Protection Act (“CIPA”).
It remains unclear then why the software includes a filter for LGBT content at all, except for use by those who are anti-LGBT.
Over the weekend, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little issued another statement that improves a bit over the first, promising to investigate the claims of censorship:
Recent reports have suggested that the Pentagon is blocking access to LGBT related websites. The Department of Defense does not block websites based on LGBT content. [...]
There are a number of different Internet tools used across the department to ensure that adequate cybersecurity and information security standards are maintained, and in certain instances, access may limited to content not directly related to carrying out mission or professional duties. [...]
No filter is perfect and some sites may have unnecessarily been blocked. The Department Chief Information Officer will work with relevant components to address these situations.
Still, neither statement addresses the way progressive LGBT content is uniquely blocked when conservative anti-gay content is not, nor explains the validity — past or present — for such filtering. If the only answers ever offered are suggestions that LGBT content threatens national security, then the only conclusion left will be that the Pentagon is itself anti-LGBT.