- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The U.S. Army will allow soldiers at bases in the United States to access Web-based personal e-mail and some social media and networking Internet sites — including Facebook, Twitter and Flickr — from military computers.

Army officials hope the new policy will bring consistency to an often-conflicting patchwork of regulations, orders and rules for users of Army computers.

The orders were issued last month “to address inconsistent Web-filtering standards” on different Army computer systems, Stephen Bullock, spokesman for the Armys 7th Signal Command, told The Washington Times.

Previously, network managers at different Army installations effectively set their own policies about access to the networking sites.

“These are sites that soldiers are encouraged to use to get the Army message out. The Army has a presence on these sites. … There is no reason to block them,” Mr. Bullock said.

The order covers systems under the operational control of the 7th Signal Command, Mr. Bullock said. Systems run by the Army National Guard, for instance, would not be covered.

In addition to Facebook, Twitter and Flickr, the bookmarking site Delicious and the video-sharing site Vimeo are also covered. The Army has a Twitter feed, a Facebook page and its own channel on Vimeo.

Mr. Bullock said other social-networking and media sites, including MySpace, PhotoBucket and YouTube, will remain off-limits under a Department of Defense order issued two years ago.

The May 2007 order blocked access on all U.S. military computers to 12 social-networking and media sites.

Timothy Madden, spokesman for a task force involved in Pentagon computer policy, said the earlier order was issued “to maximize the availability of [computer network] resources to support Department of Defense missions.”

“You can pick up a newspaper any day and read about the negative consequences of social media sites,” Mr. Madden said, adding that issues for the military included operational security and the possible transmission of malicious software.

“The Global Information Grid is a war-fighting platform,” said Mr. Madden, referring to the Pentagon’s worldwide computer network. “We have a responsibility to make sure it is available.”

Some observers see the policies as inconsistent, if not incoherent.

The military is “schizophrenic” in its attitude toward the Internet, said defense technology writer Noah Schachtman, who first reported the Armys new policy on his blog for Wired.com.

“There are elements in the military that are really warming up to social media,” he said. “Several senior officers are dipping a toe into the blogging business.”

Some in the military are concerned about the possible use of interactive Web sites by hostile intelligence agencies.

At a Department of Defense conference last month in Florida, two representatives from the Defense Intelligence Agency made a presentation showing how information from LinkedIn, a professional-networking site, and other Web sites could be used to help a foreign intelligence service build up a target list for its spies.

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