Military blocking of Web sites not uniform
July 17, 2009
Want to log onto Facebook or Twitter on your government computer? You might be able to, depending on where you’re stationed.
Sailors at the Italy-based stations of Naples and Sigonella, for example, had access roughly a month ago to sites such as Facebook, Flickr and Twitter. But access for sailors in Rota, Spain, didn’t come down until Wednesday, officials said.
And troops in Germany could be waiting on approval that’s never going to come.
Senior military leaders have recently tapped into some social networking sites to try to reach younger servicemembers.
The Pentagon has a Facebook page. U.S. Forces — Afghanistan posts releases to a Facebook page in lieu of an official Web site. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, has a Facebook page, as does Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Rick West. Adm. James Stavridis, commander of U.S. European Command, has said he plans to leverage Facebook and Twitter to get his message to his troops.
So some military bases started granting access from a government computer to once-blocked sites such as Facebook, Flickr and Twitter. Others, such as MySpace and YouTube, remain blocked.
In June, the Army ordered network managers at 81 U.S. locations to unblock some Web sites; yet there have been no changes or immediate plans to grant access at Army bases in Europe, as officials wait for a clear directive from Joint Task Force-Global Network Operations to dictate changes.
“I think our position is that we’re in a holding pattern with no foreseeable action,” said Kristopher Joseph, spokesman for 5th Signal Command, which maintains the lion’s share of government computer networks for Army bases in Europe.
“JTF-CNO sets policies over Web site access and we are waiting for them to update our policy.”
Yet sites such as Facebook and Twitter never appeared on the list of sites ordered blocked by network operations; thus, the command doesn’t need — or intend — to send an approval for unblocking these sites, spokesman Timothy Madden said.
The mandate has led to some misinterpretations, Madden said.
“That said, 5th Signal (indeed, any command) has full authority to block any Web site that — in its view — is as a hindrance to productivity, contains questionable content, uses excessive amounts of bandwidth, or presents an unacceptable security risk.”
In May 2007, the Defense Department blocked access from official government computers to 13 sites — including MySpace, YouTube, personal commercial e-mail accounts and a host of other sites — saying such sites could risk network security or put a heavy drain on networks through the streaming video and audio files.
Facebook, Twitter and Flickr didn’t make the list of 13.
“Those sites were not blocked by the action taken in 2007 and there has been no recommendation from us to do so,” Madden wrote in an e-mail.
“Any action in addition to the [directive] issued in 2007 is at the discretion of commanders in the field.”
Apart from the original 13 identified sites, “[t]here is no over arching Department of Defense policy regulating any other sites, but DOD grants commanders in the field the option of blocking access from government computers to those sites that they deem inappropriate,” Madden wrote.
There was no clear answer as to why MySpace is blocked, but Facebook isn’t.
“[S]everal factors weigh into that decision, but our primary concern is operational: what is the impact on resource allocation, network availability, and security issues,” Madden wrote. “We will not discuss further specifics of an operational nature.”