Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Military yanks a few more plugs on the troops

The Defense Department continues its crackdown on free speech in the military. And it's not just political speech the brass doesn't like -- it's any speech that may become public, meaning any speech that is transmitted electronically.

If you're really, really screwing up a war, you don't want your own people talking about it.

From the Christian Science Monitor:

The Pentagon has imposed a ban on US troops' access to popular networking and video sites, just weeks after a storm of criticism over new rules limiting soldiers' personal blogs

The Associated Press reports that the Pentagon is blocking access to more than a dozen websites, including YouTube and MySpace, over military computer networks. A Pentagon spokesman said that the move was intended to "enhance and increase network security and protect the use of the bandwidth."

The ban has been met with sharp criticism. Personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan use the banned sites to communicate with friends and family, and some worry that the ban will hamper that communication and damage morale, writes The New York Times.

Becky Davis, whose son is serving in Iraq, helps write a blog for the group Military Families Voice of Victory. As part of the blog, Ms. Davis occasionally provides YouTube links to reports that she thinks soldiers will find interesting. She said she was unsure whether the links would be blocked.

"I am concerned about how this directive is going to impact the families," Ms. Davis said. ...

"These sites are like modern-day forms of writing letters, the same sorts of letters that soldiers in the trench holes in World War II wrote," said Corey Robinson, 22, who served a total of 20 months in Iraq and Afghanistan in the Army.

"When we were able to use the Internet, there was a huge difference in our morale," Mr. Robinson said.

Mike Thiem, a spokesman for the Defense Information Systems Agency, told the Times that the ban was necessary to prevent slowdowns of the Pentagon network. As many of the banned addresses were music- or photo-trading sites, which demand significant bandwidth. "There was careful thought given to which sites were chosen. This was not an arbitrary decision by any means," he said. He also denied that the ban was meant to prevent soldiers' communication with family. "No one is trying to prevent that from happening."

The BBC writes that the ban comes as the Pentagon sees the success of its own YouTube channel, Multi-National Force-Iraq, which ranks 16th on the site's most subscribed-to listing. The BBC notes that though the Pentagon has invited its troops to submit video for the channel, those same troops will not be able to view the channel unless using private computers.

The website ban comes on the heels of criticism over new Pentagon restrictions on the posting of soldiers' blogs. Wired reported two weeks ago that the U.S. Army has ordered troops "to stop posting to blogs or sending personal e-mail messages, without first clearing the content with a superior officer."

No comments: