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New policy authorizes social media access, with caveats

Department of Defense officials have released policy for responsible and effective use of Internet-based capabilities.  (U.S. Air Force graphic)

Department of Defense officials have released policy for responsible and effective use of Internet-based capabilities. (U.S. Air Force graphic)

WASHINGTON (AFNS) -- A new Defense Department policy authorizes DOD members to access social networking Web sites and other Web 2.0 platforms from nonclassified government computers, as long as it doesn't compromise operational security or involve prohibited activities or Web sites.

Defense Department officials issued the long-awaited policy Feb. 26, establishing consistent rules for all military members and employers.

Deputy Defense Secretary William J. Lynn III, who signed the policy, said it strikes a critical balance between the benefits and potential vulnerabilities of these applications.

"This directive recognizes the importance of balancing appropriate security measures while maximizing the capabilities afforded by 21st-century Internet tools," he said.

While authorizing access to these tools, the new policy also recognizes the importance of protecting military networks and operations, said David Wennergren, the deputy assistant secretary of Defense for information management and technology.

For example, the new policy allows commanders to temporarily limit access as required to maintain operations security or address bandwidth constraints. It also prohibits malicious activity on military information networks and denies access to sites promoting prohibited activity such as gambling, pornography and hate crimes.

While information sharing may seem the polar opposite of security to some people, Mr. Wennergren said the DOD officials can no longer afford to consider just one or the other.

"If you look at either one individually, you will fail," he said. "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."

The new policy promotes what Mr. Wennergren calls "secure information sharing," providing the balance needed to tap into the capabilities social media networking provides without compromising security.

He emphasized the importance of personal responsibility in using unclassified military networks to access these tools, and said department officials will continue to evaluate the policy after it takes effect.

"There's a huge imperative for security," Mr. Wennergren said. "It is everyone's responsibility in the department to make sure they are doing all that they can to protect our information and our information systems."

Ultimately, he called responsible, security-conscious use of social media networks a win-win proposition for DOD members, enabling them to take full advantage of the power of social media networking.

"The world of Web 2.0 and the Internet provides these amazing opportunities to collaborate," Mr. Wennergren said. It not only promotes information sharing across organizational boundaries and with mission partners, but also enables deployed troops to maintain contact with their loved ones at home.

"So if you work on those two pieces (access and security) this really is giving people this avenue to do amazing things in terms of getting the information shared and making decisions happen much more rapidly," Mr. Wennergren said.