August 17, 2007 | By Marcia Hofmann

EFF FOIA Docs: Soldiers Rarely Blog Information That Threatens Military Operations

The AWRAC was originally created in 2002 to keep tabs on .mil websites, but its mission expanded in 2005 to include blogs with information relevant to the Army. This change appears to have been controversial. According to an email [PDF] sent late last year by one Army official to another, "My suspicion . . . is that the AWRAC's attention is being diverted by the new mission of reviewing all the Army blogs. In the past they did a good job of detecting and correcting [web site policy compliance] violations, but that is currently not the case."

Solider bloggers play a vital role in educating the public about life with the military, a reality that many of us never experience firsthand. In May, President Bush applauded milbloggers' efforts to share their stories with the public.

Despite milbloggers' solid track record of keeping operations security (or "OPSEC") material offline, the Army recently tightened its regulations on all military publishing in online public forums. Many critics, including senators, are concerned about the impact this change will have on milblogs, and some say it will keep soldiers from blogging altogether.

The Army insists [PDF] that its rules haven't changed much and won't make it more difficult for military personnel to blog. However, while the past version of the regulations [PDF] required soldiers to consult with their commanders only before publicly posting information that might be sensitive or critical, the 2007 regulations [PDF] unquestionably go much further. They specifically require soldiers to get permission from their superiors before publicly posting any information:

All Department of the Army (DA) personnel . . . will . . . . [c]onsult with their immediate supervisor and their OPSEC Officer for an OPSEC review prior to publishing or posting information in a public forum. This includes, but is not limited to letters, resumes, articles for publication, electronic mail (e-mail), Web site postings, web log (blog) postings, discussion in Internet information forums, discussion in Internet message boards or other forms of dissemination or documentation.

The military may have very sound justifications for putting certain restrictions on online publishing. To the extent that the Army's broad new regulations will deter milblogging, however, the figures in EFF's FOIA documents don't indicate a need to keep such a tight leash on soldier journalists. As long as Army personnel are careful and prudent about what they post -- as the vast majority are -- their blogs are a valuable asset to the military.

You can view all the FOIA documents about the AWRAC's mission here. To learn more about EFF's open government work, visit the FOIA Litigation for Accountable Government (FLAG) Project page.

Many thanks to Noah Shachtman of Danger Room/Wired for helping to parse these documents. You can read Noah's reporting on them here and here.


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