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If you type "" into the address bar of your web browser, you'll find the official web site of Republican Congressman Adrian Smith (NE-03). However, if you head over to the liberal blog Smith Watch and click on a link to the exact same address, you'll get a "404 Page Not Found" error. Why the difference? Because Smith is now actively blocking access to his official web site when the referring link comes from the "" domain. So why is Smith doing this? It could be a mistake (update: it's kind of a mistake - see below), but my money says that he's afraid of the criticism he's been getting from the Smith Watch blog and blogger Lisa Hannah.

Adrian Smith became a Congressman in 2006 after winning a plurality in a 5 candidate Republican primary. As usual with NE-03, the winner of the Republican primary wins the general election. The joke you'll hear around election time in this rural district is "we spray for Democrats out here". However, Smith's was so unremarkable that President Bush had to show up a week before the election to save Smith's candidacy (the Democrats fielded a surprisingly strong candidate in Scott Kleeb, but that's another story).

Needless to say, when Mr. Smith went to Washington, his incompetence followed him. Fed up with this incompetence, concerned citizen Lisa Hannah began watching his every move on the Smith Watch blog. Lisa has been so effective that even a few of the local Republican mouthpiece newspapers have been running her blogs as editorials. Markos called Smith Watch "a model of how every Republican in Congress should have his or her every step scrutinized."

Lisa was having problems linking to Smith's web site (but neither of Nebraska's other Congressmen), and initially assumed a technical problem on her end (a testament to her fairness with respect to Smith's behavior). She posted the response she got from the tech support:

   The problem isn't with your link. It's with THEIR server. It's rejecting (giving a 404) when the link comes from blogspot. What a douche this guy is. He's blocking requests when it comes from bloggers.

   Ok, to explain. Whenever you click on a link, the browser sends off a request to the server...yadda yadda...included in that is the referrer of the page you came from. His Official Government Website, that WE pay for (well I'm guessing on that part), is throwing up a 404 when the referrer heading comes from I tested from one of my test blogs and it doesn't work either, also uploaded a test page to googlepages (a different domain) and it works. So it really is blogspot they are blocking via the referrer.

   Here's the rejected conversation from blogspot
       GET / HTTP/1.1
       User-Agent: Mozilla/5.0 (Windows; U; Windows NT 5.1; en-US; rv: Gecko/20071025 Firefox/
       Accept: text/xml,application/xml,application/xhtml+xml,text/ html;q=0.9,text/plain;q=0.8,image/png,*/*;q=0.5
       Accept-Language: en-us,en;q=0.5
       Accept-Encoding: gzip,deflate
       Accept-Charset: ISO-8859-1,utf-8;q=0.7,*;q=0.7
       Keep-Alive: 300
       Connection: keep-alive

       HTTP/1.x 404 Not Found
       Date: Sat, 03 Nov 2007 15:00:21 GMT
       Server: NOYB
       Last-Modified: Thu, 29 Dec 2005 15:21:28 GMT
       Etag: "57ca10-39a-4543ae00"
       Accept-Ranges: bytes
       Content-Length: 922
       Keep-Alive: timeout=2, max=1000
       Connection: Keep-Alive
       Content-Type: text/html; charset=UTF-8
       Referrer from blogspot == page not found

   Now, same thing with referrers turned off:

       GET / HTTP/1.1
       User-Agent: Mozilla/5.0 (Windows; U; Windows NT 5.1; en-US; rv: Gecko/20071025 Firefox/
       Accept: text/xml,application/xml,application/xhtml+xml,text/
       Accept-Language: en-us,en;q=0.5
       Accept-Encoding: gzip,deflate
       Accept-Charset: ISO-8859-1,utf-8;q=0.7,*;q=0.7
       Keep-Alive: 300
       Connection: keep-alive

       HTTP/1.x 200 OK
       Date: Sat, 03 Nov 2007 15:04:48 GMT
       Server: NOYB
       Expires: Mon, 26 Jul 1997 05:00:00 GMT
       Last-Modified: Sat, 03 Nov 2007 15:04:49 GMT
       Cache-Control: no-store, no-cache, must-revalidate, post-check=0, pre-
       Pragma: no-cache
       Content-Encoding: gzip
       Vary: Accept-Encoding
       Content-Length: 6577
       Keep-Alive: timeout=2, max=1000
       Connection: Keep-Alive
       Content-Type: text/html; charset=UTF-8

   The ONLY difference between the two is the referrer. And the congressman's server is basically rejecting anything with a blogspot referrer. I'm tempted to say that maybe, just maybe this is some sort of technical error, but really there is no reason for that. It HAS to be done deliberately.

   Looks like you can get a new blog post out of this. Congressman Adrian Smith is afraid of Bloggers!

   So to sum up, everything on your end is correct. It's the dear congressman that is playing games. Notice how his taxpayer server is also configured to Identify itself as NOYB (none of your business). Nice guy. Nebraska huh? Without looking I'm going to guess he's a Republican.


   It's being blocked as well. So it's anything from blogspot. Looking around, I don't see many others but you linking to him from blogspot, so it must've been you that scared him. Great Work!!!

   That's just such a pathetic thing for them to do. I shouldn't be surprised I suppose, but good god.

I think the techie is right on in his or her analysis. Lisa's remarks on the subject are right on too:

When you combine this action, and the fact that they refused to provide copies of what are publically available reports (Financial Disclosed, Franked Mail, Gift and Travel) after months of attempts, this can only lead to one conclusion:

Adrian Smith fears dissent. He fears truth. He fears anything that shows the REAL Adrian, rather than the false image he continues to try and portray. In other words - HE FEARS ME!

That's right, we've got a big powerful Congressman afraid of a little criticism from a lowly blogger. And now, he's going to take his ball and go home. Sure, there are things Lisa could do to get around it, but I think Lisa ought to leave those broken links up as a reminder of how our elected representatives can overstep their authority.

Personally, I fear the precedent that this sets. President Bush prohibits dissenters from attending his rallies, and now we have a Congressman blocking access to his website from his own constituents. If we keep letting them get away with it, pretty soon we'll have to agree to a loyalty pledge before entering any congressional web site.

Update: According to Lisa, this problem has been going on for a few months. It is likely that the New Nebraska Network which was until recently on blogspot contributed to Smith's policy of blocking bloggers. NNN is now a community blog, and that's where Lisa first brought this to my attention.

Another Update: You can follow more details on this story as they unfold at Smith Watch. Lisa still hasn't been able to get a response from any of Smith's people about this, but there is someone from Smith's web host running around claiming that the whole thing is just a mistake. But, some of the things they're saying have turned out not to be true, and they also refuse to answer any further questions. At the same time, no one has been able to verify anything they've said. If it really was a mistake, they sure don't seem to eager to fix it.

Yet Another Update: So it turns out that this isn't just an Adrian Smith problem. If Smith is indeed afraid of Smith Watch, the blocking of blogger traffic doesn't seem to be his doing. GovTrends, who hosts Smith's web site, has a policy of not allowing links on any of the Congressional web sites they host. You won't, however, have any problem linking to any of their corporate clients from a domain. They wouldn't tell us who their Congressional clients were, so I tested every single Senator, Representative, and Delegate's official web site and found  the same issue with the following 36 members of congress (no Senator's site had the problem):

Rick Boucher
Robert Brady
Mike Castle
Jim Cooper
Jim Costa
Peter DeFazio
Keith Ellison
Brad Ellsworth
Anna Eshoo
Terry Everett
Sam Farr
Charles Gonzalez
Alcee Hastings
Paul Kanjorski
Tom Lantos
John Lewis
Daniel Lipinski
Dan Lungren
Tim Mahoney
Kenny Marchant
Jerry Moran
Patrick Murphy
Eleanor Holmes Norton
Solomon Ortiz
Ed Pastor
Nick Rahall
Thomas Reynolds
Ciro Rodriguez
Tim Ryan
Loretta Sanchez
Louise Slaughter
Adrian Smith
Tom Udall
Peter Welch
Charlie Wilson
Alber Wynn

I guess I'm still trying to figure out why this is better. They don't seem to want to change the policy even now that they've gotten complaints. Thanks to everybody who put pressure on Smith to actually address this issue. It looks like you've helped bring light to a problem which is more systemic and will likely end up with a happy resolution.

UPDATE (11/06/2007): The web host responsible for the problem has decided to lift the ban on blogspot sites. They left a comment below which you can read. They also say that

Should these refer links cause harm or increased amounts of spider spam, we will review and block the http refers again WITHOUT WARNING. This decision is ours as our number one priority is security for all our congressional clients.

So basically they reserve the right to block bloggers again in the future (probably once the pressure dies down) for whatever reason they see fit. That's like blocking all email coming from "" accounts because you received a few spam emails from yahoo accounts. With that approach to security, I recommend simply unplugging the server from the power source. That will ensure no spam and is 100% effective.

It is still probably a good idea to contact your Representative if they appear on the list above and urge them to move to a web host that is a little closer to "freedom" on the "freedom vs. security" spectrum.

Originally posted to Eric Nebraska on Mon Nov 05, 2007 at 07:51 AM PST.

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