Shared Services Canada claims it imposed a national blackout on all government employees’ access to Blacklock’s website as a “potential threat” to federal internet usage. The department invoked security in justifying its media ban, confirmed through Access To Information files.
“A potential threat to Government of Canada infrastructure was detected,” Ted Francis, Shared Services spokesperson, said in a statement; “The threat was subsequently rectified. Access to Blacklocks.ca was restored.”
The department manages telecom services for 43 federal departments with some 200,000 employees. Access records show IT staffers were specifically directed to block access to the website last August 22. The source of the request is censored in 218 pages of newly-released Access documents. The department also redacted all references to claimed cyber threats.
Blacklock’s publisher Holly Doan described the department claim as “nonsense”, saying the website at no time posed any threat to the integrity of government internet systems. “There were no viruses, no malware, no danger of any kind,” Doan said.
“To cast an accredited Canadian media website as some kind of voodoo security peril in the same league as industrial saboteurs and foreign hackers is ridiculous,” Doan said. “We report the news. Shared Services’ statement is at odds with the facts.”
Government IT security staff did not reply to repeated interview requests. Documents indicate the Blacklock’s ban was lifted the same day the publication filed an Access request for information on why the website was blocked.
“It Seems Odd”
The Canadian Association of Journalists urged cabinet to release details of the alleged threat used to justify the website blacklisting. “We’re concerned that a government department would block access to any media website at all,” said Hugo Rodrigues, association president.
“It seems odd that a publicly-funded department would restrict access to media,” Rodrigues said. “We do have freedom of the press and freedom of expression in Canada. There needs to be transparency and accountability. They need to supply some credible information to justify their action – and we don’t see that.”
Access files indicate Shared Services Canada repeatedly cited Blacklock’s in Cyber Brief bulletins distributed to IT staff. All the references were censored. Department officials had refused to say how many other websites it blocks, or why, or how many are published by Canadian media organizations.
“We do not comment on the specifics of methods used to protect the Government of Canada’s IT infrastructure,” said Marie-Helene Rouillard, a department spokesperson; “The Government of Canada is continuously working to enhance cyber security”.
The blacklisting appeared to violate the government’s own handbook on permitted use of federal computers. Government employees are permitted to “keep up-to-date with news and current events,” according to cabinet’s 2013 Policy On Acceptable Network & Device Use.