Site Blockage Shows Bush Team Doesnt Get It

By Chris Nolan  |  Posted 2004-10-27

Site Blockage Shows Bush Team Doesnt Get It

Back in the good old days when the Internet was a fad, not a business, it was commonplace for tech folks to divide the world into two groups: those who "got it" and everyone else. You didnt want to be "everyone else."

This was particularly true in politics. Democrats Bill Clinton and Al Gore "got it." They came to Silicon Valley regularly, they chatted up venture capitalists, they talked about free trade and loosening of encryption export restrictions. Tech, and Silicon Valley in particular, loved them.

The Internet isnt a fad anymore. Its a platform for people to create and grow businesses. Regardless of your political affiliation, if youre reading this, you already know that. And you understand the universal reach of the Net, and how its complicated and changed your business. For better or worse, its everywhere. All of the time.

Which makes a recent decision by Bush-Cheney 04—the presidents re-election campaign—a bit puzzling.

Since Monday of this week, the campaign Web site has denied access to domains located outside U.S. borders. Heres an access graph from Netcraft.

Thats right. The political campaign to re-elect George Bush isnt talking to the outside world.

Read more here about overseas users being denied access to Bushs re-election Web site.

There are plenty of explanations, of course. Perhaps the Bush-Cheney campaign has suffered a DOS (denial of service) attack and—with good reason—has shut down access from potential attacks.

eWEEK.coms attempts to reach the campaign werent successful, so apart from knowing that access from London, Amsterdam and Sydney has been deliberately blocked, we dont have specifics about whats happened. And lets not all jump to the conclusion that the Bush folks have completely given the tech advantage to the Democrats.

The Kerry campaigns use of Web sites isnt—as I wrote on my own site a few months ago—without its own hiccups.

But denial-of-service attacks arent exactly new. Microsoft—which could be as simultaneously loved and disliked as any international corporation among the tech-savvy—has this problem pretty regularly. And its tech folks who know what to do. Among other things, they shuffle the server addresses.

In other words, its part of doing business on the Web. Right? Right. Smart tech folks prepare for this sort of stuff.

But what if something slightly more nefarious is at work? What if Bush-Cheney 04 wants to keep its political messages tamped down for U.S. readers only? Well, thats just as silly.

Next Page: Information wants to be free.

Info Wants to Be

Free"> First of all, it denies access to (nonmilitary, nondiplomatic) U.S. residents living abroad. And it does seem like a bit of overkill to deny information about the campaign to some potential voters but not to others.

Besides, tech folks know that information, as the idealist used to say, wants to be free. Thats the lighthearted way of talking about how the Internet—always on, always connected, growing more ubiquitous and more powerful all the time—actually works.

So, again, its easy to conclude that the Bush campaign doesnt really understand the tools its using. Blocking access to the campaign site wont last, and itll only temporarily halt any Web-based breeches. Just ask the Chinese government how successful its attempts to keep out information carried on the Internet have been.

And just as an aside, how is it that the campaign effort to re-elect a U.S. president comes to embrace the tactics used by a government not exactly known for its open approach to information? Ill leave the cheap cracks on that observation to the peanut gallery.

Either way—whether they meant it as defense or offense—the Bush campaign has miscalculated here. Or maybe they thought no one would be looking. Either way, theyre squarely in the "dont get it" camp.

This has implications well beyond the Web, as a recent article—one I wrote about last week on this site—by Richard Florida points out. International commerce is U.S. commerce; there is a thinner and thinner line between the two.

Click here for the column on Floridas article, in which he addresses a U.S. "creativity crisis."

An increasing amount of international commerce is conducted via the Internet. Its the Net thats bringing home the war in new ways, not all of them comforting. Its the Net thats making it possible to hire Indians in India to work for U.S. companies. Its the Net thats making China a giant electronics and toy manufacturer.

And politics aside—in favor of the Iraqi invasion, against it; supportive of corporate use of outsourced workers or adamantly opposed—the inability to see that link between how a Web site is run and how international trade is being conducted, especially when its accompanied by failure to address a common e-commerce problem, is big trouble.

If the Bush-Cheney campaign "gets it," it has a funny way of saying so. Technology and Politics columnist Chris Nolan spent years chronicling the excesses of the dot-com era with incisive analysis leavened with a dash of humor. Before that, she covered politics and technology in D.C. You can read her musings on politics and technology every day in her Politics from Left to Right Weblog.

Check out eWEEK.coms Government Center at for the latest news and analysis of technologys impact on government practices and regulations, as well as coverage of the government IT sector.

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