Defense to allow troops, family members to use social network sites

Soon-to-be-released memo lifts bans on the use of Facebook, Twitter and other sites, saying the tools provide an information advantage for the military and its allies.

The Defense Department, which had seen some services ban the use of social networking sites, will allow troops and their families to use the popular online communication tools such as Facebook and Twitter on its unclassified networks, according to a draft memo obtained by Nextgov.

The memo, written by Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn III and due out in days, solidly backs the use of social network sites, which Lynn calls "Internet capabilities," for both official and unofficial purposes and envisions these tools as providing an information advantage for Defense.

The new policy "addresses important changes in the way the Department of Defense communicates and shares information on the Internet," Lynn wrote. "This policy recognizes that emerging Internet-based capabilities offer both opportunities and risks that need to be balanced in ways that provide an information advantage for our people and mission partners."

The directive defines Internet capabilities as "the full range of publicly accessible information services resident on the Internet [and] external to the DoD, [for example] outside of the .mil domains, including Web 2.0 tools such as social networking services, social media, user-generated content sites, social software, as well as e-mail, instant messaging and discussion forums."

The memo comes in the wake an increasing use of social media sites by deployed troops and their families to communicate. But the sites are bandwidth hogs, which interferes with military communications, and their unfettered use by troops in deployed areas raised security concerns. In July 2007, the Defense Information Systems Agency banned access to and use of 13 social working and video streaming sites on Defense networks to preserve bandwidth.

The Marine Corps reinforced on Aug. 3 a longstanding policy against the unofficial use of social network sites on its networks to conserve bandwidth. Lynn ordered a security review on Aug 4.

Some troops and their families expressed concern about the ban on Defense's Web 2.0 Guidance Forum that Lynn's study would result in a ban on the unofficial use of social network tools. But the directive endorsed the use of the sites on Defense's unclassified network known as the Nonclassified Internet Protocol Router Network, or NIPRNET.

"Personal, unofficial use of Internet-based capabilities by DoD employees from the NIPRNET is permitted, but users shall not claim representation of the department or its policies, or those of the U.S. government," the memo stated.