2 gov campaign websites were blocked on state computers

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) - State employees can now peruse the campaign websites of Democrat Matt Brown and Republican Patricia Morgan on their work computers -- though they’re still not supposed to.

Brenna McCabe, a spokeswoman for the R.I. Department of Administration, confirmed earlier this week that Brown’s website was blocked on state computers, after state employees flagged the issue to a reporter.

“This site is blocked by one of the state’s security filters,” McCabe said in an email. “This filter helps mitigate email phishing attacks that utilize certain types of website links that have not been vetted.”

“Regardless, the Division of IT has an acceptable use policy that prohibits state employees from accessing non-business-related websites, including political websites,” McCabe added.

The following day, however, McCabe confirmed that Brown’s website was no longer blocked.

“The IT team was poised to remove the block, but the site became unblocked naturally because it had passed security rating clearinghouses and was no longer considered an ‘unrated’ website,” she said. “It’s not uncommon for new websites or sites with new content to be ‘unrated’ for a short period of time after the site and/or the content first appears online. Our security filter automatically blocks unrated sites.”

A state employee also reported Morgan’s website being blocked at the same time Brown’s was; McCabe said Morgan's is not blocked now, either. Other candidate sites, including those of Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo and Republican candidate Allan Fung, were apparently never blocked.

Steven Brown, executive director of the ACLU’s Rhode Island chapter, said his take on the matter would depend on the circumstances.

“If those two websites were deliberately blocked by the state, then it would be of great constitutional - and ethical - concern,” Brown said in an email. “If the blocking was the result of idiosyncratic Internet filtering software, then it's good that it has been fixed, but some effort should be undertaken to determine why it happened in the first place.”

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He is a weekly panelist on Newsmakers and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook

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