The Democratic Party of Wisconsin hosted a conference call for press this morning to detail their allegations that the Capitol wi-fi system has blocked access to the protest organizing website , the site is a clearinghouse for volunteers assisting with organizing protests and disseminating information. As announced yesterday by the TAA via Twitter, protesters in the Capitol were no longer able to access the site at some point on Monday.
Sachin Chheda, the chair of the Milwaukee County Dems and a former employee of the Division of Enterprise Technology, explained during the call what protest organizers were seeing. Specifically, the Capitol provides a public wi-fi connection, named "Guest," that is open to visitors and has been widely used over the last week.
"At some point on Monday, perhaps midday, administrators [of the site] learned it was being blocked," explains Chheda. "I learned of this later, saw it was happening, and saw that it doesn't sound right. So I asked a colleague in the Capitol to send me a screenshot of what he saw when he tried to open it."
This screenshot was published today in a press release issued by the Wisconsin Dems. The error message at the top of the browser reads: "Oops! Google Chrome could not connect to 10.64.0.149:15871," the address for the wi-fi connection. More specifically, though, the search box in the browser reads: "149 15871 block page."
"My instant reaction was that they put it on a blacklist, and somebody would have had to make a decision to do that," says Chheda. He explains that these lines from the screenshot are consistent with a string he was familiar with five years ago when he worked at the Division of Enterprise Technology. He compared it to the standard blocking of various inappropriate websites, such as those that are pornographic, that is permanently in place. "If they're using it, it would be a program that requires a person to manually enter a particular website address into a list. Somebody made a decision to limit access to a website, and it was a government agency that said you're no longer able to access this."
TAA organizers swiftly responded to restore access, setting up a mirror site at http://thinkobscurelyforward.appspot.com/defendwisconsin.org within hours.
Former Wisconsin Assistant Attorney Genera Chuck Hoonstra said a conscious blocking of the site is a clear violation of the First Amendment. "If deliberate, it exposes the persons responsible to litigation in either state or federal court," he said. "If they have some facts that would suggest our facts are wrong, it's time for them to come forward."
The Wisconsin Department of Administration says the website was indeed blocked by the Capitol's Internet connection, but that this was an automatic action on the part of the system itself. "No one at DOA decided to block this website, or took particular action to block this website," says DOA spokesperson Carla Vigue. She says the state's security software "does automatically block some websites" in use within the system if they are brand new, with the rationale that "the vast majority of these websites are malicious and used to steal information."
DefendWisconsin.org still cannot be accessed directly via the Capitol's wi-fi system, but Vigue says the state is working with the security software vendor to unblock the site. No details were provided as to when access would be restored, but she says they hope to have it available again later today.