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Pentagon OKs social-media access

With new policy, the Defense Department acknowledges the impracticality of an either/or decision between network security and information sharing via the Web.

The Defense Department has made its peace with social media.

Long skittish about forums such as Facebook and Twitter, the U.S. Department of Defense says that it is now OK with social-networking services and other interactive Web 2.0 applications. A memorandum released Friday makes it official policy that the agency's nonclassified network will be configured to provide access to Internet-based capabilities across all Defense components, including the various combat branches.

Centcom Flickr upload
A petty officer uploads images to the Flickr page of the U.S. Central Command. U.S. Defense Department

That's not to say that the Pentagon is embracing all of the free-wheeling nature of blogs, tweets, and online video. Soldiers, sailors, and airmen will still be expected to refrain from activities that could compromise military actions or undercut readiness.

"Commanders at all levels and heads of DoD components will continue to defend against malicious activity on military information networks, deny access to prohibited content sites (e.g., gambling, pornography, hate-crime related activities), and take immediate and commensurate actions, as required, to safeguard missions (e.g., temporarily limiting access to the Internet to preserve operations security or to address bandwidth constraints)," the Defense Department said in a news release.

The Pentagon says it recognizes that social networks, among other Web capabilities, are useful tools for interaction both within the Defense Department and between the agency and the general public. It is also satisfied with the balance it has struck between network security and use of Internet-based tools.

And it also acknowledges that an either/or decision between security and information sharing is impractical.

"If you look at either one individually, you will fail," said David M. Wennergren, deputy assistant secretary of defense for information management and technology. "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 military has been using social-networking tools for some time, but policies have not always been consistent across the branches, and officials over time have wavered on how much they were willing to let individuals engage with the likes of blogs, YouTube, Facebook, and the like.

"Facebook is heartened by today's decision to begin to allow our nation's men and women in uniform and civilian employees across the Department of Defense responsible access to social media, which plays an important role in people's daily lives," Facebook said in a statement.

Updated 11:57 a.m. PST with statement from Facebook.