New regulations worrying Army bloggers
May 4, 2007
WASHINGTON — Bloggers worry that new Army rules for all online postings could put severe restrictions on soldiers’ Web sites, but Army officials insist that isn’t their goal.
“If they are enforced as written, I think it would end or severely curtail blogging downrange as we know it,” said Minnesota National Guardsman Staff Sgt. Dave Thul, who has been serving in Iraq since April 2006 and maintaining the blog Foreign and Domestic since January.
“But as with most things in the Army, the key is in how it is enforced. If it is enforced similar to say, height and weight standards, then I think we’ll be OK.”
Last month, the service issued new regulations regarding operational security, updating restrictions on all electronic communications and reminding all military personnel not to release “classified or sensitive information” on the Internet or to the media. The new regulations can be found at legacy.stripes.com.
The document specifically bans posting pictures of roadside bomb attacks, images of troops killed in action, and any shots of base security measures. But it also mandates that soldiers “consult with their immediate supervisor and their OPSEC Officer for an OPSEC review prior to publishing or posting information in a public forum,” specifically citing blogs.
Army spokesman Paul Boyce said that isn’t new policy.
“We want soldiers to be able to speak their mind and share with each other what they’re doing,” Boyce said. “We just want to remind them that there are people out there who want to kill them, so they need to be careful.”
Noah Shachtman, editor of Wired’s Danger Room blog, which has been chronicling the backlash to the regulations, said the blogging community has been outraged by the changes.
“Either that’s unbelievably sloppily written, or their intent is to shut down any site they want,” he said. “It seems like a back door way for them to bonk any blog [by a soldier] if they decide to.”
But Boyce said that soldiers already must inform their commanders before they start any sort of Web site, and he said the new rules simply reiterate that service officials must be aware of all postings. But he maintains the language does not require soldiers get prior approval before writing.
“We’ve tried over the past three years to be as open as we can be,” he said. “We just want to make sure [soldiers] are thinking about security before they post.”
The rules also require that commanders ensure all information released — including any posting from subordinates on the Internet — receives an operational security review. It also states that units should conduct quarterly reviews of Web sites to ensure that “the content remains relevant and appropriate.”
Shachtman said those details are clearly a tighter restriction than blogging troops have faced in the past. Boyce said soldiers who already are following the rules should not notice any differences under the new policy.
Boyce added that when Army officials have updated their rules in the past, he has not seen a drop-off in the number of soldier blogs or their postings.
So far Thul hasn’t changed his blogging habits. He said his unit has been supportive of his writing, and that commanders routinely check his site to make sure he is complying with operational security regulations.
Capt. Keith McNeilly, an Oregon National Guardsman blogging from Afghanistan, said he doesn’t think the new regulations will change his postings either. His unit also monitors his blog, McNeilly’s Perspective, and he makes sure the content of his postings don’t violate Army rules.
“I believe that military blogging done by soldiers, done correctly, is a huge asset to the military,” he said.
“That does not mean that I have drank the Kool-Aid and am regurgitating Army thought. What it means is that the American public and our executive and legislative branches deserve as much information about what actually happens here as they can get. It is a form of check and balance; There are rabid fanatics on both sides of the spectrum.”
Perspectives from around the Web
Additional resourcesUpdated Army regulations