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Government computers are not ours Misuse can lead to UCMJ actions

By Airman 1st Class C. Todd Lopez

DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. (March 31, 2000) -- The Internet and e-mail has made it possible for hundreds of thousands of service members all over the world to stay in touch with each other, with friends and family members at home.

But these new tools have pitfalls. At the same time it is possible to send a quick hello back home to mom, it is also possible to misuse the military computer network.

Misuse of government computers can lead to jail time for offenders.

Such misuses include the intentional transfer, storage or viewing of sexually explicit information; transfer of or receiving of large, non-work related files through the e-mail or through the Web; the use of chat rooms or any real-time chat software; or the use of military networks for personal profit or gain.

According to Senior Airman Jennifer Peterson, 436th Communications Squadron, Network Security Administration, inappropriate material includes anything that could be found offensive to anyone. Examples include anything pornographic, dirty jokes, or anything possibly considered offensive.

According to Peterson, when users receive such material in their e-mail, there are appropriate steps to take.

"Users who receive e-mails containing inappropriate content should save the e-mail, call the help desk and ask them what to do," said Peterson. "Do not forward it to anyone unless the help desk asks."

Peterson said the communications squadron does not scan through e-mail for inappropriate content, but that doesn't mean sbusers won't be found.

"Most people who send inappropriate e-mail get caught," said Peterson.

"One way you get caught is to download pictures over the network," said Capt. Michael Safko, 436th Legal office. "When those large files clog the network systems, the Communications Squadron is keyed into the material being downloaded. Another way is when users send inappropriate content to a user who is offended by it."

One reason for the proliferation of inappropriate information on base networks is the advent of the Web. The Web gives users access to millions of pages of information and graphics. Not all of this information is appropriate for viewing on military computer networks, however.

According to Peterson, sites known to contain information not necessary to the Dover mission are blocked out by special security software maintained by the communications squadron. Users of the Web are warned they have attempted to access an inappropriate Web page when they see the "Access Denied" Web page in their Web browser.

"Right now, there are about 3,000 sites blocked," said Peterson, "and the security check is running all the time. When people surf the internet, the Communications Squadron can see everything they do on their individual computers, and where they search."

Government computer users need to use common sense when deciding if something is appropriate. If there is a question, it probably is not appropriate.

What is important to remember is the computer networks on Dover Air Force Base are government systems. "People should realize when they use a government computer network, they are subject to monitoring" said Safko.

"If we get word somebody has sent a dirty joke or a pornographic picture across the e-mail, we can charge that individual with Article 92 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice," said Safko. "The range of punishments depends on the severity of offence. The circumstances could warrant a letter of reprimand, an Article 15, or even a court martial."

"Recently, a particular squadron had a number of individuals involved in sending pornography over the e-mail," said Safko. "Each of them received an Article 15, and the punishments included forfeitures of pay and loss of rank."

In light of the legal ramifications of misusing government computers, it is clear what direction system users should take.

"The bottom line is that the government system is a tool to help you do government work," said Safko. "If you misuse it, you'll get caught, and when you get caught, career damaging consequences can occur."