Updates at bottom:
I want my MTV! Somewhere a soldier or sailor in Iraq or Afghanistan is probably thinking that today. According to the AP, on May 14, the Department of Defense blocked “worldwide” the US troops who use its networks and computers from accessing 12 popular websites that include, YouTube, MTV, MySpace, Blackplanet and Photobucket. The Defense Deparmene which the DoD said“take up a large amount of bandwidth, and others that can open up department computers to hackers and viruses.” (emphasis mine throughout)
US Forces Korea Commander (USFK) Gen. B.B. Bell explained in a memo sent out Friday that the new policy will not impact the military's ability to send and receive email, but the “Department of Defense has a growing concern regarding our unclassified DoD Internet, known as the NIPRNET. The Commander of DoD's Joint Task Force, Global Network Operations has noted a significant increase in the use of DoD network resources tied up by individuals visiting certain recreational Internet sites.”
The AP delved into some of the issues involved:
"This recreational traffic impacts our official DoD network and bandwidth ability, while posing a significant operational security challenge," the memo said.
Members of the military can still access the sites on their own computers and networks, but Defense Department computers and networks are the only ones available to many soldiers and sailors in Iraq and Afghanistan.
If the restrictions are intended to prevent soldiers from giving or receiving bad news, they could also prevent them from providing positive reports from the field, said Noah Shachtman, who runs a national security blog for Wired Magazine.
"This is as much an information war as it is bombs and bullets," he said. "And they are muzzling their best voices."
The sites covered by the ban are the video-sharing sites YouTube, Metacafe, IFilm, StupidVideos and FileCabi; social networking sites MySpace, BlackPlanet and Hi5; music sites Pandora, MTV, 1.fm and live365; and the photo-sharing site Photobucket.
Sure, unsecure and heavy Internet traffic is a problem, but all of that usage may not completely disappear, but be re-directed to similar sites like Facebook, Second Life, Google Video, Flickr, which could just take the place of the banned substitutes.
The selective website blockade has already begun in Iraq, according to a Military Times reporter at Multi-National Division-Baghdad Headquarters in Baghdad, who said he was unable to access YouTube and MySpace from a Defense Department computer.
First the decree to essentially end any kind of online interaction by the military--milblogging, emailing and posting to message boards, then reconsider and step back from that announcement. Do the DoD and the Pentagon even know how important using the Internet and keeping connected to friends, family and even meeting new Internet buddies is to today’s soldiers and sailors, most of whom are away from home and need to use the military’s networks? For now, they can switch to other similar sites, but who knows how long that will be an option? The military may just continue to block problem sites as troops switch to different ones.
Maybe the short-term answer is to block certain high-traffic sites to give the military a chance to fix the security and bandwidth issues while they look for a way to allow some access to these sites, if there is one, but that doesn't seem to be what they are doing; they won't say whether this ban is only temporary. Regardless of the inconvenience and public relations loss, operational security and reducing bandwidth consumption take priority, though, over whether a sailor gets to update his MySpace page. However, since this problem will only get worse as the years go by, and they need to find a solution that safely and economically allows at least some of the access.
Other than the individual soldier or sailor, the public loses the most. Along with Fox News, right-leaning blogs and milblogs, these online images and dscussions about first-person experiences were among the only sources of positive information about the armed services and the various conflicts and wars we are engaged in around the world. Without these, we are left with the media’s coverage, anti-military/anti-war activists' views and the military’s attempts at PR, and we all know how that often turn out.
The funny thing is, the Department of Defense is taking away this access just as they are launching a YouTube channel. Oh the irony. A soldier in Iraq who has a video of one of his firefights with insurgents posted by the military can’t even watch it.
Update: (07:45 05/17)
*ABC.com just announced it plans to stream shows in HD for free beginning in July, which may cause bandwidth problems. That would be just another site for the DoD to eventually examine. (hat tip- Ars Technica)
* Uncle Jimbo at Blackfive posted about the ban with a retired Special Operations Master Sergeant's perspective.
Update II: ( 8:15 05/17) The online techie newspaper, the Register and techie magazine "Wired" say that it is the PowerPoint briefings that eat up the bandwidth.
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