Q&A with Websense General Counsel Mike Newman
As Internet use has become more ubiquitous throughout the world, spreading concepts and ideologies in ways that were previously unimaginable, growing attention is now being paid to government censorship issues as they pertain to the World Wide Web. As a company with roots in Internet filtering, Websense is sometimes incorrectly identified as a company that helps governments and Internet service providers (ISPs) censor the Internet use of private citizens. Websense General Counsel Mike Newman, explores these rumors and sets the record straight on Websense policies and business practices.
Q: The Websense policy against government-imposed censorship is posted on the company’s Web site, but can you provide some additional insight on the policy and why it was created?
A: Our goal as a company has always been to create a solution that protects organizations and their employees from unwanted content on the Internet, whether it’s Web-based malware or simply content that is inappropriate in the workplace. Websense products have never been designed nor intended to be used as a tool by governments to oppress or censor people’s private Internet use. Earlier in our company’s history we did not have an official anti-censorship policy in place, but we discouraged business if we felt it wasn’t in line with the company’s mission and culture.
As global Internet use has risen exponentially in emerging markets, it’s become increasingly apparent that certain governments intend to implement solutions like ours in ways that are not consistent with our corporate objectives. To clarify our position and to dispel rumors that Websense sells products to governments and government-controlled ISPs that use our products to restrict Internet access and content for their citizens, we created a social responsibility policy relating to anti-censorship that is implemented globally. The policy is posted on our Web site, with similar language contained in every contract that our customers and our channel partners sign.
Q: Why do you think Websense is sometimes mentioned in news articles regarding government censorship if the products are not actually being used to censor individual Internet use?
A: Websense is the pioneer of the Web filtering industry and I think that many people use the term “Websense” as a catch-all term for any Web filtering product being used. I think many people, for better or for worse, use Websense to describe Web filtering like they might use “Coke” to describe all types of cola. Unfortunately, in today’s Web 2.0 culture of blogs, wikis, etc., once something gets printed, often it’s mistaken as fact and repeated.
Q: Many U.S.-based companies – Websense competitors – actively pursue business with governments that use the technology to filter private citizens’ Web use. It seems like this could be a pretty lucrative business. Why did Websense choose to not go after this business?
A: The simple answer is that we don’t want or need that kind of business. The purpose of our Web filtering and Web security products is to make the Internet a safer place to do business, ensuring security and organizational productivity, while limiting legal liability for employers. Government censorship is not on our product roadmap.
Q: Recently you became aware that some ISPs in Yemen were using Websense software in a way that didn’t comply with your anti-censorship policy. What happens if and when you become aware of something like this?
A: I think we do a good job of avoiding entering into any business arrangements that are contrary to our policy, but because we sell globally through more than 1,000 resellers to more than 40,000 customers, on rare occasion things can slip through the cracks. In the unusual circumstance that something like the Yemeni ISP situation occurs, we conduct an investigation, gather information and provide the customer in question an opportunity to come into compliance with Websense terms, conditions and policies. If they choose not to, we take steps to suspend or terminate the customer's product subscription. To be completely transparent on this topic, we even published our investigation and review process on our Web site.
Q: Under what circumstances would Websense allow governments to use its software to filter Internet access for citizens?
A: The only government-sponsored Internet filtering projects we participate in are those where a government policy prohibits child pornography and/or prohibits minors from accessing pornography. We believe these projects are consistent with our corporate objective of making cyberspace a safer place to be.