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No Facebook, YouTube for Canadian government workers

Ontario government employees will no longer be able to visit Facebook and YouTube at work.

MONTREAL -- Ontario government employees will no longer be able to visit Facebook and YouTube at work.

Premier Dalton McGuinty said Thursday that he couldn't see the justification for permitting employees to continue to access the sites. They're now banned like gambling and porn sites.

There is some justification for taking this step, of course. Ontario government workers (it's the country's most populous province, so there are a lot of them) can waste lots of time checking their Facebook accounts and browsing video clips on YouTube. Cracking down on time-wasting by bureaucrats paid for by tax dollars is a reasonable thing.

But so is allowing government officials to access information about businesses they may eventually end up regulating, as University of Ottawa law professor Michael Geist pointed out while in town for the Computers, Freedom and Privacy conference this week here. There are two dueling objectives, in other words.

In the private sector, market mechanisms would sort out what are good or bad policies. Companies that block too many sites would be viewed as a less desirable place to work and, at the margin, would lose employees. Firms that underblock sites might find that too many people are watching cat videos when they should be at work. The process isn't perfect, but it works.

But government agencies are monopolies by definition, which mean they're outside the normal market process of finding best practices by experimentation and competition. There are more political overtones, too, because employees at a for-profit business are just wasting the owner's money, not money forcibly extracted by taxpayers.