First Amendment

Education Department no longer blocks Public Citizen website after lawsuit is filed

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Employees at the U.S. Department of Education are no longer blocked from accessing the Public Citizen website when using its Wi-Fi and employee networks.

The department agreed to adjust its web filter after Public Citizen filed suit in April claiming a First Amendment violation, according to a Sept. 12 press release. The Daily Beast has coverage.

Public Citizen, a nonprofit consumer advocacy organization founded in 1971, has published material critical of the Education Department’s administration of government programs. The group learned that it had been blocked after a staff member was at the Education Department for a February meeting and was unable to access the Public Citizen website.

The website was blocked because of classifications used by the Education Department’s web filtering service provider Fortinet. The Education Department had asked Fortinet to block “adult/mature” content, and Fortinet had classified advocacy organizations as “adult/mature.”

Other websites in the “adult/mature” category included those devoted to pornography and gambling.

Public Citizen warns that other government agencies that use Fortinet may also be blocking access to advocacy organizations. Public Citizen wrote Fortinet, urging it to remove advocacy organizations from its “adult/mature” category, but Fortinet did not do so, Public Citizen says.

The July 26 letter says Fortinet is not consistent in its grouping of advocacy organizations. Some organizations—including the American Civil Liberties Union and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce—are put in a “general interest” category that is less likely to be blocked by customers.

Public Citizen’s lawyer, Nandan Joshi, called the situation “bizarre” in an interview with the Daily Beast.

“Some web filterer decides to do a classification, and all the sudden voices are silenced,” he said.

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