I was stunned to learn today that the Securities and Exchange Commission in Washington, DC blocks employees from viewing videos posted on YouTube. Now, I know that many companies do this sort of thing, but for an important national regulatory agency to block access to potential useful information seems quite counterproductive.

This means that no SEC employee can see Professor Joseph Grundfest attack the recent Wall Street Journal article taking SEC Chairman Christopher Cox to task over the Bear Stearns situation. Certainly that’s something of substance that ought to be of interest to someone at the agency.

Or what about being able to check out videos that are alleged to be part of penny-stock-pumping schemes? Surely the professionals at the SEC ought to be able to look at these without begging permission of the IT department.

SEC employees can’t even watch video of their own commission meetings posted on YouTube.

To me, this is certainly very troubling. More importantly, it raises important questions:

  • What other web sites is the SEC blocking access to?
  • What other government agencies restrict access to legitimate and useful information?
  • How has this lack of access to information made it harder for government employees to do their jobs effectively?

Government agencies restricting employee access to online information seems to go well beyond the concerns that Shel Holtz has raised about similar activity in the private sector. Regulators and policymakers make decisions every day that directly affect the lives of individual Americans. They should certainly have access to as much information as possible to do their jobs effectively and efficiently.

This also represents a more serious problem than the concerns recently
expressed over possible Congressional restrictions on the use of
services like Twitter and Qik. Restricting access to information
clearly presents a greater concern than regulating how information may
be disseminated (though it, too, is an important issue).

If there are employees who are abusing their government computers to access information that is not for professional purposes, by all means deal with those individuals. But do not throw the baby out with the bathwater to do it.