U.S. Education Dept. Sued Over Blocking Access to Advocacy Group’s Website From Within Office Building

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos testifies before the House Education and Labor Committee.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos testifies before the House Education and Labor Committee. AP Photo

 

Connecting state and local government leaders

Alleged Wi-Fi block violates the First Amendment and the Administrative Procedure Act, complaint argues.

The consumer advocacy group Public Citizen on Tuesday filed suit against the Education Department, complaining that the agency had blocked access to the group’s website to users inside an agency building.

The complaint in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia names the department and Secretary Betsy DeVos as defendants, arguing that the alleged Wi-Fi block violates the First Amendment and the Administrative Procedure Act.

The problem surfaced on Feb. 22, according to the complaint. Public Citizen staff member Patrick Llewellyn was at a meeting in the Education building at 550 12th St. SW in Washington and attempted to log onto the Internet using government WiFi, the complaint said.  He was “able to use ED’s Wi-Fi network to access numerous websites, including websites of various advocacy groups and trade associations,” a Public Citizen attorney stated in the document. But when Llewellyn attempted to access Public Citizen’s website, he received a message on his device indicating that access to that site is “in violation of your Internet usage policy. Please contact your network administrator for assistance.”

Public Citizen linked the episode to numerous documents critical of the Education Department policy under DeVos, such as a December 2018 report titled, “Rewriting the Teach Grant Rules: Lessons from a History of Mismanagement,” which provided a critical analysis of grant-to-loan conversions under Education’s TEACH Grant program. “The report found that decisions and errors made by ED in its administration of the program contributed to the staggering number of teachers whose educational grants have been erroneously converted to student debt,” the complaint noted.

Washington attorney and Public Citizen member David Halperin, whose name is on the complaint, stated that in the course of his regular visits to the Education Department’s office to attend rule-making sessions and hearings, he has routinely accessed multiple outside websites from his computer. But “for approximately the past year, however, Mr. Halperin has been blocked from accessing Public Citizen’s website on ED’s guest Wi-Fi networks.”

The complaint argued that “The department and DeVos have no legitimate justification for blocking access to Public Citizen’s website and are imposing a viewpoint-based and/or content-based restriction on Public Citizen’s protected speech, in violation of the First Amendment.” The action is said to violate the APA because “it is not supported by reasoned decision making, arbitrarily treats similarly situated persons differently, and fails to consider or preserve the important First Amendment principles at stake.”

The suit seeks a court order declaring the department’s and DeVos’s action “unlawful and enjoining them from blocking access to Public Citizen’s website on its Wi-Fi and internal networks.” It also seeks reimbursement for attorney’s fees.

Ask for comment by Government Executive, a department spokesman said, “The department does not comment on pending litigation.”

Public Citizen attorney Nandan Joshi on Thursday said he has received no response from the department and is not able to verify whether access to the group’s website is now allowed inside the department

Charles S. Clark is a Senior Correspondent at Government Executive. 

FEATURED CASE STUDIES
Powered By The Atlas
MN Water District and High School Collaborate on Stormwater and Education
Forest Lake, MN, USA
New Parking Plaza Adds Capacity & Embraces Sustainability at San Diego Airport
San Diego, CA, USA
Chula Vista creates a Digital Equity and Inclusion Plan
Chula Vista, CA, USA

NEXT STORY: How American Mothers Balance Work and Family

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.