Feds ban news website on public employees' computers

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Blacklock's Reporter is an online news website that covers the inner-workings of Parliament. The publication is a member of the Parliamentary Press Gallery and is the only reporter-owned website in Ottawa.

The site recently obtained documents revealing that the federal department responsible for overseeing IT duties has banned public servants from accessing the small, independently owned online publication.

Named after a former president of the Ottawa Press Gallery, Blacklock's has a subscription-based model and costs users around $157 a year.

In July, Blacklock's took Finance Canada to court for alleged copyright infringement when the federal agency circulated subscription-based articles to its staff.

The ban was initiated by Shared Services on Aug. 22, but revoked on Sept. 9 after journalists and public servants started to ask questions.

Shared Services Canada spokesperson Ted Francis said that Blacklock's Reporter posed a "potential threat to Government of Canada" when the ban was initiated.

Normally, Shared Services Canada can prevent public employees from accessing specific websites on work computers, for example, sites that show hate propaganda, pornography, obscenity or illegal gambling, according to the 2013 Policy on Acceptable Network and Device Use.

In addition, federal bureaucrats are not allowed to make public comments about government policies, engage in any sort of political activity, or breach the "duty of loyalty" which is required of everyone employed by the government.

However, according to publisher Holly Doan, Blacklock's is far from being considered contraband.

"Surely Shared Services Canada can tell the difference between Blacklock's and a jihadist website or crime syndicate," she said on Blacklock's website.

Documents obtained by Blacklock's in an Access to Information request show that Shared Services has blocked the domain for other websites but would not specify which and how many.

The Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ) was especially vocal in its criticism of Shared Services as CAJ president Hugo Rodrigues said the ban "seems odd" in an interview with Blacklock's.

"We're concerned that a government department would block access to any media website at all."

Shared Services Canada has not detailed what kind of threat Blacklock's posed to its IT infrastructure and to public employees.

The ban contradicted the 2013 Policy on Acceptable Network and Device Use which states the public employees are allowed to access websites for news and information.

Francella Fiallos is a fourth year journalism student at Carleton University in Ottawa. She sits on the Board of Directors at OPIRG-Carleton, edits a campus newspaper, and hosts a radio show on CKCU 93.1 FM in the capital region.

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