A consumer advocacy group that has criticized the Trump administration and its Department of Education sued the agency on Tuesday, claiming the government is unlawfully blocking access to its website on the department’s Wi-Fi and internal networks.
Public Citizen, a liberal nonprofit organization that has frequently criticized Secretary Betsy DeVos, filed its lawsuit Tuesday in the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. Public Citizen is asking the court to force the agency to restore access to the website, citizen.org. It also asks the court to declare the department’s actions unconstitutional and in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act.
“Defendants’ decision to block access to Public Citizen’s website on its Wi-Fi and internal networks is unsupported by reasoned decisionmaking and fails to consider adequately the First Amendment interests implicated by its blocking practice,” the complaint said.
Public Citizen says it uses its website to share information about government agencies and actions. “In many cases, Public Citizen has expressed views on its website that are critical of actions taken by the current Administration, of which Secretary DeVos is a cabinet member,” the complaint said.
Public Citizen is also asking for an award in costs, including reasonable attorney fees.
The suit says that one of its plaintiffs—David Halperin, a member of Public Citizen’s board of directors—has been blocked from accessing the site from the department’s Wi-Fi networks for approximately a year. The suit says Halperin regularly visits the Education Department’s offices to “attend negotiated rule-making sessions and public hearings and to meet with ED officials and staff.”
According to the complaint, when Halperin attempted to visit Public Citizen’s website while logged onto the Department of Education’s Wi-Fi network, he received a message saying the website is “in violation of your Internet usage policy.” The message, according to the complaint, added that the blocked URL fell under the category of “advocacy organization.”
Tuesday’s complaint notes that the Education Department doesn’t block users on its Wi-Fi and internal networks from accessing other advocacy organizations’ websites.
The agency’s press office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.