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9/7/2005
06:27 PM
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FEMA Aid Site Blocks Access To Firefox, Macs, Linux Users

Users looking to file claims online for government help must be running Microsoft Internet Explorer 6.0 or later with JavaScript enabled. That blocks everyone running Linux, Apple Macintosh computers, and Windows users running alternate browsers such as Firefox or Opera.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), already the subject of sharp criticism in the wake of the Hurricane Katrina disaster, may find itself chastised further for restricting access to its online assistance site to Windows and Microsoft Internet Explorer users.

To file a claim online at FEMA's Individual Assistance Center, where citizens can apply for government help, the browser must be IE 6.0 or later with JavaScript enabled.

That cuts out everyone running Linux or the Mac operating systems, as well as Windows users running alternate browsers such as Firefox or Opera.

When TechWeb tested the site using Windows XP and Firefox 1.0.6, the message "In order to use this site, you must have JavaScript Enabled and Internet Explorer version 6. Download it from Microsoft or call 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) to register" popped up on the screen.

Attempts to contact a FEMA representative were unsuccessful.

Two weeks ago, the U.S. Copyright Office came under fire for a similar limitation when it said that its soon-to-be-launched revamped site will allow only Internet Explorer and a version of Netscape Navigator to access a copyright preregistration system.

In late August, Sir Tim Berners-Lee and Daniel J. Weitzner of the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) sent a letter to the U.S. Copyright Office, accusing the agency for locking out large numbers of users and for violating federal information policies.

"The proposed system would be contrary to at least the spirit of federal information policy adopted by the E-Government Act of 2002," wrote Berners-Lee and Weitzner.

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