First thing this morning, I was going to mention how, according to Dallas County public defender Mike Howard, the county "has gone all Big Brother on us and blocked pretty much every website I care to access." Howard noted this over the weekend on his invaluable, award-winning blog The Wretched of the Earth. Picking up on this was Scott Henson at his similarly indispensable criminal-justice blog Grits for Breakfast, who was appalled that the county would limit its employees' access to blogs. But I didn't mention it this morning because I noticed that someone posted to Grits at 7:22 a.m. that, yeah, blog access was back up and running. So, everything's cool, right?
Actually, not so much, Henson says. Well, he's not saying it; a county-workin' reader says it in a comment e-mailed to Henson. "All county employees are being taken to 'level 1' status with heavy restrictions on their internet access," says the Grits poster. "To lessen the restrictions employees have to submit their reasoning for the access to their boss and their boss has to submit the endorsed request to the County Commissioner's Court. Seems like much ado about nothing to me to go to all this trouble to block access!"
Turns out, the county is indeed blocking Internet access -- following the lead of the Dallas Independent School District, which, Unfair Park recently learned, doesn't allow its employees to look at blogs or other Web sites. And while both the county and DISD claim they're keeping their peeps off the Web to up their productivity, the county has one interesting caveat in its new set of regulations, which took effect two weeks back. Seems the county's limiting access to sites that are "potentially harmful to Dallas County." What's that mean? "Heck if I know," says one county employee who knows a lot of things.
We did a little digging this afternoon and found out, yup, there are indeed new procedures in place at the county. And the man to thank for them is none other than Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price, who recently told smokers to quit smoking on the taxpayers' dime. Price is on the county's IT steering committee, and two weeks back got his colleagues to adopt a new policy that restricts Internet access for county workers.
There are now four levels of access. If you're at "level zero," well, you gets zero access. "Level one" means you get what the county calls "standard access," which means no sites potentially harmful to Dallas County (again, beats the heck outta us), no streaming audio or video, no adult sites and no gaming or entertainment sites. "Level two" qualifies you for "enhanced Internet access," but with most of the same caveats as "level one." But "level three" is the big time: You get everything except adult content.
In order to qualify for top-tier status, you have to get the Commissioners Court to give their collective thumbs-up; levels one and two are allowable with a supervisor's OK.
At the moment, we hear, the new screening software in place is a little buggy: Even those who have access to streaming video can't get it to work, unless it's embedded in a page. Everyone else, well, they'll just have to read and write their blogs at home, unless a boss says it's cool. Which probably won't happen, unless they want a visit from John Wiley Price. --Robert Wilonsky
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