Pentagon Relaxes Facebook, Twitter Regulations

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American troops can now use social networking sites to help them stay in touch with friends and family whilst serving aboard

The US Department of Defense (DOD) has announced that US military personnel can now use social networking sites, such as Twitter and Facebook, after it conducted a review of its use among the DOD.

In a 26 February memorandum covering the “safe and effective use of Internet-based capabilities,” the DOD said the entire non-classified network may provide access to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other user-generated content and Web 2.0 applications, such as Google Apps, wikis and blogs.

“This directive recognises the importance of balancing appropriate security measures while maximising the capabilities afforded by 21st century Internet tools,” said Deputy Secretary of Defense William J. Lynn III.

However, the document also gave the right for military management to deny access to sites in the case of abusive use and punish users abusing those privileges. The memorandum noted:

“Commanders at all levels and heads of DoD components will continue to defend against malicious activity on military information networks, deny access to prohibited content sites (e.g., gambling, pornography, hate-crime related activities), and take immediate and commensurate actions, as required, to safeguard missions (e.g., temporarily limiting access to the Internet to preserve operations security or to address bandwidth constraints).”

With this move, the DOD is tacitly acknowledging the value of social media and other modern tools in letting colleagues and soldiers communicate and collaborate with each other, as well as with the family and friends. However, the DOD is also trying to strike a balance between national security and acceptable social communication and collaboration.

David M. Wennergren, deputy assistant secretary of defense for information management and technology, told the American Forces Press Service:

“If you look at either one individually, you will fail. You will have great security, but no ability to access information sharing. [Or], if you think only about sharing, you will run into issues of operational security and letting bad things into your system. So you can no longer think of them as two separate subjects.”

How military personnel behave in the wake of this decision will determine how long the current policy stands. Abuse of the social network sites and other apps could just as easily result in a permanent ban on these sites by the DOD.

The decree should solidify what have been nebulous policies regarding social network site use in the military.

For example, last June the US Army decided to let its personnel access Facebook and Twitter, but banned MySpace and YouTube. And then in August, the US Marine Corps halted the use of Facebook, MySpace and Twitter for the next year. The Marines noted:

“These Internet sites in general are a proven haven for malicious actors and content and are particularly high risk due to information exposure, user generated content and targeting by adversaries. The very nature of it creates a larger attack and exploitation window, exposes unnecessary information to adversaries and provides an easy conduit for information leakage that puts OPSEC, COMSEC, personnel and the MCEN at an elevated risk of compromise. Examples of Internet SNS Sites include Facebook, MySpace and Twitter.”

Right after the Marines’ decision, the Pentagon began reviewing the use of social network use among the DOD.

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