DOD using same Blue Coat Internet censor as Syria, Saudi Arabia and likely Burma

I’d written extensively over the last several days about an issue with the Defense Department’s Internet “Blue Coat” filtering software that, depending on the location, has a penchant for banning gay and progressive Web sites, including this one.

The Pentagon, among others, has made clear that they’ve gotten the message and will be investigating the problem, and that’s good.

But now that they’re looking into the issue, they might want to look into something else – the fact that Blue Coat technology is also used by repressive regimes in Syria, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, and likely Burma to oppress their people.

We can do better than following the example of Syria’s Assad.

Background

We had reported earlier about the Defense Departments arbitrary and capricious censorship of gay and trans Web sites (Towleroad, Good as You, HRC’s blog) while not banning anti-gay sites (NOM, AFA), and its censorship of some progressive blogs (AMERICAblog, Pam’s House Blend, Daily Kos), while permitting other conservative blogs (Red State) to be read on military computers.

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We also reported on concerns that the filtering category the Pentagon is using, “LGBT,” also includes gay “anti-bullying” and “suicide prevention” sites.  Here’s a description of the generic ban category that the Defense Department is using on certain of its computer systems:

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As I noted, late Friday we had a welcome development.  The Pentagon issued a statement making clear that they would be investigating the problem, and I received similar private assurances from people I know and trust outside of the Pentagon.

Since that time, another concern has come to light that bears mentioning.

US Joins Syria, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar and Likely Burma in Using Blue Coat to Censor Domestic Content

Blue Coat logoThe company the Defense Department is using to censor Web content for American troops, Blue Coat, is the same company whose technology is being used by the oppressive Assad regime in Syria to squash pro-democracy protests in that country, and by the repressive regime in Saudi Arabia, among other Middle East non-democracies.

Canadian researchers have also concluded that it is likely that the horrifically oppressive military junta in Burma is also using Blue Coat technology to thwart democratic opposition in that dictatorship as well.

Syria

From the WSJ:

Some of Syria’s largest Internet-service providers have been using Blue Coat devices since as early as 2005, according to a person familiar with the matter. The order of 14 devices was the largest in recent memory, but as many as 25 appliances have made their way into Syria since the mid-2000s, with most sold through Dubai-based middlemen, this person said. Blue Coat says it is investigating other possible unauthorized transfers….

The company has no corporate policy against selling to governments or Internet service providers engaged in censorship. Its devices block websites in the U.A.E., Bahrain and Qatar, a Journal investigation earlier this year determined.

Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Qatar

From EFF:

There are far more repressive regimes in the world than there are embargoed countries. Several United States allies, including Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar, are also using Blue Coat systems for censorship and surveillance.

Burma

From Forbes:

A team at Citizen Lab, a research center at the University of Toronto focused on Internet security and human rights, released evidence Wednesday that shows Blue Coat devices were deployed in Burma as well as Syria to filter and surveil the Internet. Using remote scanning tools and field researchers in both countries, they say they’ve found 13 more Blue Coat devices in Syria, as well as strong evidence that the company’s gear was used in Burma as well.

More from Citizen Lab itself:

Citizen Lab researchers have documented evidence that suggests Blue Coat devices are also used to filter Internet content in Burma.23 The Burmese military junta is well-known for its serious human rights violations,24 including its repressive tactics for Internet control and surveillance.25 Burma is subject to U.S. sanctions as well, which (with certain exceptions) prohibit imports from, export or reexport of financial services to, and new investment in Burma.26 Such sanctions demonstrate the U.S. government’s intent to restrict economic activity that will support the Burmese regime. Accordingly, it is of significant concern that the evidence we have gathered suggests Blue Coat technology is also used in Burma to filter Internet traffic.

More about Blue Coat

Mother Jones questions Blue Coat’s forthright-ness in dealing with these accusations:

An editor at Slashdot says Blue Coat Systems misled him about whether the firm’s internet filtering systems were being used by Syria.

More from EFF about Blue Coat’s business ethics:

Blue Coat’s blatant lack of concern for human rights is alarming. There are far more repressive regimes in the world than there are embargoed countries. Several United States allies, including Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar, are also using Blue Coat systems for censorship and surveillance. But Blue Coat is surely unconcerned; after all, exporting to those countries isn’t against the law; it just helps violate the human rights of the people living under those regimes.

Meanwhile, the list of Syrians detained for blogging or other online activities continues to grow.

As we wrote last week, we believe that voluntary standards such as the ones we’ve proposed, should be adopted by companies. But, if companies don’t act in the interest of human rights, regulations don’t seem very far off.

Your move, Blue Coat.

Actually, the next move is the Pentagon’s.

It’s rather creepy that our government maybe be subjecting American troops to the same censorship tools used by Assad in Syria, the Saudi royal family, and possibly even the Burmese junta.  It’s time that changed.


Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown (1989); and worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, and as a stringer for the Economist. Frequent TV pundit: O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline & Reliable Sources. Bio, .

Share This Post

  • Aaron

    Correct and anyone can see what a website is categorized as by visiting http://sitereview.bluecoat.com/sitereview.jsp and you can even suggest a new category for a website. Currently this site is categorized as Blogs/Personal Pages and Political/Activist Groups. To be viewed on a DoD system the Blogs/Personal Pages category would have to be removed. Again anyone can do this for any site and BlueCoat will let you know if they changed their categorization. And as the DoD said sites are not being blocked because of the category LGBT, but because it has the category Blogs/Personal Pages.

  • http://twitter.com/JakeOrlando Jake Orlando

    They probably fixed this. I can view this page and Towleroad on a DoD computer.

  • Bill Herrmann

    I’m shocked, SHOCKED I tell you. The US military acting like a military dictatorship? Didn’t happen when I was in the Navy during Vietnam. Times sure must be achangin’.

  • UncleBucky

    Traffic jams, erratic yellow lights, stale donuts, and spilled coffee… I am certain that teh gay is to blame for all of that, too!

  • UncleBucky

    Yes, it’s an easy way to wash one’s hands… Kinda like the boys in the back room blaming each other and getting away scot-free with the critics. Damned 9-year old behaviours….

  • UncleBucky

    At the very top of the command chain, and so it’s trickle down Machine Gun Jaysus, ain’t it? ;o)

  • UncleBucky

    But what about sleek-coated american shorthair cats? Or dachshunds? I like them…!

  • Jim Olson

    I concur. Fewer, more in-depth articles, less nonsense. Plenty of other places on the interwebs for that.

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    Back off the fluffy puppies dude! Some of us are fluffy puppy zealots,

  • nicho

    Well, if we’re that powerful, we should just conjure up a tornado or a flood on the DOD.

  • http://twitter.com/JafafaHots Jafafa Hots

    Cisco helped China set up their internet monitoring and censorship tech.
    Google filters results there.

    Coming down on the DOD (always a good idea) because a company they use is also used by repressive governments is hardly likely to impress anyone.

    EVERY company in America profits from deals with repressive governments. It’s our national business model these days.

  • nicho

    Are you just now figuring out that the DOD is a religious dictatorship?

  • goulo

    Kudos to Americablog for the recent reporting and activism on this. The Pentagon censoring what its own soldiers see on the web, cutting off LGBT and progressive/left-wing information sources, really illustrates how hollow the “support the troops” rhetoric is.

    PS: FWIW, THIS is the kind of good article I started reading Americablog for, several years ago – not the increasingly frequent fluffy puppy videos and music videos; I’d rather see less frequent good serious articles than the frequent fluff.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    Then why is The Advocate being blocked?

    I’ve long since learned to take anything the DoD says or claims with a boulder-sized grain of salt.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    I agree, but I additionally have the problem in that someone, presumably at Blue Coat, is applying politically and socially biased subjective categorization.

    AmericaBlog is not a ‘personal’ blog. My blog is a personal one. This site here is a Dem-favoring progressive news blog.

    The proof, as they say, is in the pudding. AmericaBlog is censored by Blue Coat by being labeled political/activist and merely a personal blog. Ann Coulter’s site is not censored, so it must be being put into other categories — I’m guessing just ‘news’ or ‘opinion’ or something, but not ‘activist’. The Advocate is being censored for being pro-gay rights, but the SPLC-identified hate groups AFA and FRC are not, even though by Blue Coat’s own definition of ‘hate’ website, they should qualify for denigrating people for an ‘involuntary characteristic’ (i.e., being gay; I wrote on this the other day, transcribing the text from their category for it). Red State is okay, DailyKos is not — why?

    I’d give anything to know what criteria is being applied that allows far-right conservative websites and blogs to bypass Blue Coat’s filters, while nearly all progressive and liberal voices are silenced.

  • caphillprof

    I have a problem with the DOD “filtering out” blogs and/or “personal pages”, because it is through blogs and personal pages that personnel deployed overseas have access to their friends and loved ones.

    As for DOD using the same filtering company as Syria, Saudi Arabia and other thug regimes, take a good long look at the World War II memorial sitting down on the Mall between Washington and Lincoln. We become our enemies.

  • http://www.intoxination.net intoxination

    Blue Coat can be configured to many different scenarios and filtering. I’m the webmaster for Crooks and Liars and we have had users there complain about the site not updating more than once per day. That’s because some companies use Blue Coat to reduce bandwidth and only refreshes the cache once per day. I’ve also dealt with clients that use Blue Coat when I did non-web stuff. This included the DOD and DOE (almost every government agency uses it, as well as schools and hospitals). I can’t speak to the software now, but back then it was really a PITA and great at false positives.

  • NCMan

    It is Blue Coat that is categorizing the LGBT and progressive sites as “Blogs/Personal Pages” while categorizing the anti-gay and conservative sites as “News”. This is what is causing the bias in filtering. The DoD has said they are filtering out sites that are categorized as “Blogs/Personal Pages”.

  • Mike_in_the_Tundra

    Obviously, we’re pretty scary people. Too bad about the hummers.

  • NCMan

    The Dept of Defense responded to you that the category they are filtering out is “Blogs/Personal Pages”, not LGBT. All examples of the content filter denial messages you have used in all of your posts has shown the censored sites categorized as “Blogs/Personal Pages”. It is the only category that is common to all the examples you have used. With statements like ” Here’s a description of the generic ban category that the Defense Department is using on certain of its computer systems” in this post you are maintaining your original claim that the category “LGBT” is what is being used by the Defense Dept even though they say otherwise. And, the filter denial message shown for your own site doesn’t even include the categorization of LGBT. I think it would make more sense to steer the investigation toward the more likely culprit and try to get an explanation of why LBGT and progressive sites are being categorizes as “Blogs/Personal Pages” while the anti-gay and conservatives sites you noted have been categorized as “News”.

  • Cletus

    It’s not Blue Coat doing it, it’s the Pentagon’s choice of what to block.

    We have Blue Coat at work and I’ve never had a problem getting to any of these sites, including AB’s.

  • ronbo

    Does teh gay cause military minds to function imporperly? Do teh gay ideas subvert the military mind? We must repress high-level thought by sticking our fingers in our ears. Humming loudly can assist, no actual hummers allowed.

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