• A New Low: State Department Censors Internal Dialogue to Block ACLU Discussion

    May 16, 2012

    Tags: , , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Embassy/State

    A comment on the story below of the ACLU’s support of free speech for federal employees humorously remarked

    The State Department has classified the ACLU letter and issued a warning to its busy workers in the hive not to read the letter: “federal employees and contractors who believe they may have inadvertently accessed or downloaded this letter without prior authorization, should contact their information security offices for assistance.”

    Well, fiction became reality as the State Department has stooped to a new low, censoring comments on the ACLU from a purely internal discussion Intranet forum.

    Sounding Board

    Hillary Clinton initiated something at State called the “Sounding Board,” a forum available to State Department employees only on the internal Intranet. It is not available to the public. Clinton described the initiative as

    I ask you to apply the same robust diplomacy and engagement inside this building and at other posts across the world, a willingness to discuss and debate, to be open-minded, forward-thinking, to share better ideas, better methods, better ways of executing the very difficult tasks confronting us.

    And inaugurated the forum with the vision statement that it

    Afford employees the opportunity to provide feedback on management ideas, programs, and initiatives, Promote open debate and discussion on innovation and reform, Foster discourse between employees and the Department’s senior leadership.

    My Contribution to the Sounding Board

    So it seemed to me that the world’s premier free speech advocate, the ACLU, declaiming that the State Department’s regulations blocking blogging and the first amendment rights of its employees were unconstitutional, might be of interest to other employees, and that the need to discuss changing those regulations is real. I posted this comment on the internal forum with links:

    The ACLU, in reviewing State’s preclearance policies in relation to my case, has found them to be unconstitutional and to exercise unjustified restraint. Now, the question is, will the Department change, or again have to be forced to change?

    Ok, right? No naughty words, nothing inflammatory. And so State censored it, deleted it, disappeared it so that no employee could see it, based on an anonymous accusation. Accusations at State are always made anonymously. Here’s what the moderator said

    The Sounding Board wasn’t designed to handle individually-specific cases, or cases that are under formal review of any sort. Our publishing guidelines state this, but more honestly, there are issues that are much bigger than our two moderators can handle. And yours is one of them. We have to let the procedures set in place, that you’re exercising, run their course.

    What it Means

    The State Department now has fallen to the level of censoring its own discussion forum specifically designed to “promote open debate and discussion on innovation and reform.” They want to disappear ideas that they don’t agree with. I’ve resubmitted the comment in hopes that the Stasi at State are down at Starbucks and it’ll slip through. Jeez, grow a pair, will ya’?


    State, to their credit, has now allowed a modified version of my comment online, with a note that discussion of my specific case will not be allowed.

    OK, cool. I don’t really care that employees talk about me (though they are welcome). My case itself is getting plenty of media and attention beyond the internal Sounding Board. My point is to discuss the use of social media by employees, and the ACLU statement is significant. I don’t recall in my own 24 years too many other instances where some of State regulations have been labeled unconstitutional. Social media will continue to grow, and the Department needs realistic, clear rules that are applied uniformly. Without them, you have the chaos that I have participated in for the past year or so. That does no one any good.

    State dragged its feet on the treatment of women and African Americans, and suffered for it. State took the lead on rights for LGBT employees and has profited from it. State should step up on the issue of social media and let itself be seen as a model of the free speech it advocates worldwide.

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