With Great Freedom Comes Great Responsibility: Twitter and Facebook Now Allowed Within the Firewall

Last month, the Pentagon reversed its policy on accessing e-mail, instant messaging, discussion forums and social networking sites while using government computers.  As of the February 25th Directive-Type Memorandum 09-026, our nation’s Airmen, Soldiers, Seamen, and Marines around the globe are authorized to access Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and thousands of other formally restricted websites through the DoD’s unclassified network.  Obviously, years of internet security protocols, firewalls, and service specific policies did not evaporate instantly, but the services are implementing this new policy as we speak.

To check on the status, I made an informal inquiry to my brethren still in uniform via a FB post asking if they had access to Facebook at work, yet.  Within minutes, a Marine who was actually at his desk replied: “Yes…right now as a matter of fact.”  Shortly after, an AF officer checking Facebook while on lunch break wrote: “Not yet, but supposedly, its coming.”  To say this new policy will improve troop morale is an understatement; service members around the globe can’t wait to reconnect with family and friends.

On the other hand, as the Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marines implement these new relaxed procedures, policy makers must consider the inherent risks associated with granting freedom and access through government networks paid for by taxes.  Balancing troop morale with security, manpower, unit cohesion, and bandwidth will be a challenge.  Will a Soldier watching YouTube downrange clog the portal?  Is the Signal Corps going have a special unit dedicated to reading MySpace posts from government computers?  Will there be a Navy “authorized” template for blogging?  We’ll just have to wait and see.

More importantly, what about sharing secure information over the internet?  As you would expect, our service men and women are constantly surrounded by sensitive information and everyone must fully understand their responsibilities in this critical role as “trusted agent”.  That said, often innocuous bits and pieces of information can be put together by our enemies to paint a pretty clear picture.  How easy will it be for someone to type an official email in one window and blog in the next?  What measures will be in place to prevent information from “leaking” between open applications?  It is incumbent upon those with access to the government network to protect sensitive information…literally, lives depend on it!

Thankfully, a common sense approach to securing sensitive information provides the 90% solution for operations security (OPSEC) and after serving over 10 years on active duty, I can attest to the professionalism of the men and women who continue to wear the uniform.  This new policy is a wonderful step in the right direction especially as the DoD recruits the next generation tech savvy leaders.  But then again, can you imagine a young Lieutenant flying a Predator UAV with one hand and Tweeting with the other?

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6 thoughts on “With Great Freedom Comes Great Responsibility: Twitter and Facebook Now Allowed Within the Firewall

  1. RRW says:

    Servicemen need to stay connected to family and friends, especially during deployments in hostile theatres. It is also a truism that enemy forces are creative and relentless in their pursuit of intelligence data. Mr. Wolfe makes a valid point that there must be a necessary balance between security and morale boosters. Hoorah !

  2. Joe says:

    This is a great thing, finally opening up the rest of the internet and all it holds for the DoD. I am sick and tired of hearing security “professionals” talk about how no one understands the risks or what they’re doing – give me a break. There are risks with putting anything on the net, there are risks with just waking up and walking outside everyday, but we still connect, we still live our lives. The DepSecDef has said that the DoD will accept these risks for the benefit of our military service members and support staff.

  3. Kevin says:

    I agree with all of the points raised in this article, but what about the issue of productivity? The reason many private companies ban social networking at work is because they don’t want you to waste time. What service- and unit- specific policy responses will emerge in response and what new issues will they raise?

  4. hobojoe says:

    Looks like the IDF has been having a bit of trouble with social networking this year…

    http://gizmodo.com/5485797/israeli-raid-cancelled-after-very-stupid-facebook-post

  5. Tim Lawton says:

    Completely agree that this is right way to go, but the Pentagon will have to develop a new FM specifically to address proper usage of social media, tech applications. I see a slew of new issues 2nd LTs will have to deal with…best of luck to them!

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