Military blocks soldiers' access to internet radio and social networking sites

by K.C. Jones, InformationWeek

The U.S. Department of Defense has banned use of YouTube and MySpace, just weeks after restricting soldiers' blogs.

A military general issued a memo Friday stating that use of social networking and recreational Web sites strains network capabilities and presents operational risks. The military said it will block worldwide access to the two sites as well as 11 others.

The memo states that soldiers cannot access the sites through military networks, the only lines of communication open to many on active duty in foreign countries. They can still access the sites from their home computers.

"However, if you access such sites using your personal home computer, you should exercise caution in forwarding any links or files from these sites to DoD computers or networks," U.S. Gen. B.B. Bell explained in his widely-distributed memo from Korea. "To do so could compromise OPSEC [operational security] and create an opportunity for hacking and virus intrusion."

Bell said soldiers must always be cautious, protect sensitive unclassified information, and help preserve military communications networks. He also urged them to keep in mind that the sites pose identity theft risks as well as

The blocked sites are: Pandora, 1.fm, Live365 Internet Radio, Photobucket, hi5, Metacafe, MTV, ifilm, BlackPlanet, StupidVideos, and FileCabi.

Bell cited bandwidth as the primary reason, but no gaming sites are on the list. All of the sites do allow members to share personal information with family and friends, which, if done carelessly, can endanger soldiers and their families.

The military has always urged soldiers not to share information that can endanger them, other soldiers, or the success of military plans and activities. Last year, press reports surfaced claiming that the military was trying to restrict the content of blogs and video postings out of fear it could be perceived as anti-Arab.

Defense Department representatives in the United States and spokespeople for military operations in Iraq said then that there was no new code of conduct or orders pertaining to blogs, Web sites, and videos. Commanders in war zones did warn soldiers to make sure that the images they sent over the Internet did not provide insurgents with information about tactics, techniques or procedures.

The "Multi-National Corps Iraq's Policy #9" also states that soldier owned and maintained Web sites must be registered with the unit chain-of command. Military personnel owning Web pages, portals, or sites must provide their unit, location, the Webmaster's name, and telephone number. Commanders in Iraq said that pertains to both military and non-military sites. The military also requires soldiers posting editorial content on others' pages or sites to register the URL and make sure that prohibited information is not posted on the sites. The Defense Department also has always maintained the right to monitor all information sent or received through its networks.

Last year's Department of Defense directives stated that employees "including active duty military members" were required gain clearance for public release of information that pertains to military matters and national security, but sharing information in a private capacity was permitted as long as laws and ethical standards are upheld.

Soldiers and insurgents have posted photos and videos of war and death for at least a year on sites like YouTube and Ogrish. Ogrish owner Hayden Hewitt has said the soldiers' footage was more popular than the insurgents'. The military allowed footage of bombs and firefights, as long as they did not provide insurgents with strategic information, bring shame upon the U.S. military, or violate the Geneva Conventions.

It's no secret that the military meant business about prohibiting some content. Last fall, the Army News Service published a feature article about the Army Web Risk Assessment Cell. Some blogging soldiers claim they were demoted after posting information and opinions their superiors deemed inappropriate.

Advocacy groups began to question exactly how the monitoring works, what data is collected, and what privacy protections were in place. Some have sued for more information, claiming the military is withholding information that could show soldiers' free speech rights are being violated. The Pentagon does not comment on pending litigation.

Just last month, the military strengthened the rules by requiring official operational reviews, instead of less formal supervisory clearance for blogs. The new directives apply to all electronically published materials all materials that could contain sensitive information.

Not surprisingly, the increased restrictions are under fire with some accusing the military of censorship. In the meantime, military officials have also been using sites like YouTube and MySpace to get their message out.

article originally published at http://www.informationweek.com.

The media's job is to interest the public in the public interest. -John Dewey