Monday, July 10, 2006

Bluegrass Report Sues Kentucky Over Internet Policy

Bluegrass Report, a Democrat-leaning blog in Kentucky, is suing Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher (R) over the state's new Internet policy, which blocks state employees access to certain websites, including blogger Mark Nickolas' Blue Grass Report. According to the Louisville Courier-Journal's Elisabeth Beardsley, the federal lawsuit alleges that the state policy violates the First Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause. Beardsley explains:

The Fletcher administration attempted to prevent state workers from accessing blogs, online-auction and entertainment sites last month. Officials said a review found state employees were using their time to surf the Web while at work.

Nickolas, a frequent Fletcher critic, claims the administration targeted his Web site based on his political speech, said his lawyer Jennifer Moore.

He is also arguing that the administration illegally discriminates based on content, since state workers can still access newspaper and TV station Web sites.

Nickolas may be pushing this issue a little too far. No one would question that the state, or any employer for that matter, has a right to regulate the Internet use of its employees. Clearly, Internet access is a privilege the state can take away from its employees altogether. If the state is limiting access to pure news and work-related sites only and excluding all blog sites, entertainment sites, online auctions and other totally non-related work sites, then the state's policy is probably reasonable. If it is, however, allowing access to blog sites it agrees with politically, while blocking those it doesn't agree with politically, then Nicholas would have a good argument. That doesn't appear to be the case here though.

Nicholas argues in his suit that he's really not a blog but a legitimate news organization. His reports are widely distributed to players in Kentucky government and politics. If I had to compare him to an organization in Indiana, it would be the Howey Political Report, which mixes news and opinion related to Indiana government and politics. The state defends its policy because it says the news sites are content-neutral, while the blogs are generally aligned with certain interest groups. Nickolas counters that some of the news sites have blogs within their sites which allow readers to post comments and maintain message boards which allow readers to post comments on news stories as they are updated during the day.

A weakness in the state's case in defending Nickolas' lawsuit is the rolling manner in which it adopted its Internet policy. When it was first implemented, it appeared only to target certain blogs like Bluegrass Report which had been critical of the Fletcher administration, while allowing access to other similar blog sites. After publicity questioning whether the state's policy was being applied in an evenhanded manner, the state appears now to be blocking all blogs. However, Nickolas' suit claims state employees can still access the Drudge Report and a site run by conservative columnist Ann Coulter. You can view Nickolas' lawsuit by clicking here.

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