New Bill Could Restrict Access to Certain Websites for Government Employees

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On July 17 the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee passed the Federal Information Systems Safeguards Act of 2018. This bill could severely restrict the websites any federal worker accesses while at work. The bill also gives the head of a government agency the authority to prevent federal workers from going to websites they deem a threat to the nation’s cybersecurity.

The restricted websites could include the social media profiles of any worker, meaning they would not be able to access it from any government computer. With many federal workers already restricted from using their own personal devices while at work, this bill would essentially eliminate the browsing of social media sites while a person is at work.

However, in addition to social media websites, personal email accounts could also be restricted. Some say this goes against prior agreements that government employees can keep in touch with family members and those caring for them while they are on the job. Should a family emergency that requires a quick response arise, the employee would no longer be able to take the necessary actions simply because they would not be aware of the emergency.

The bill also says any website restrictions cannot be limited to any collective bargaining agreement made by unions either before or after a person’s period of employment. The reasoning given for the proposed bill is that it will help reduce or eliminate any cyber threats the government currently faces.

The sponsor of the Federal Information Systems Safeguards Act of 2018 bill, Representative Gary Palmer, has stated that a timely response to cyber threats is critical for the government, thus necessitating such a bill. He also stated that the bill is not that different from the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) passed in 2014. The difference, he says, is simply that it clarifies ambiguous language in FISMA and allows authorities to restrict websites and email accounts without first bargaining with federal labor unions.

Others argue that the bill will not be effective, as restricting certain websites will simply lead to government workers finding ways to use their own personal devices while at work. Although some workers are currently allowed to use their own phones and other devices while working for the federal government, many are not. It is these workers who may find ways to use their personal phones if this new bill passes. While the bill has passed the committee, it has not been made into law just yet. However, it is definitely much closer than it once was.