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?