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Web standards order opens some social networking sites in CONUS

By C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (June 12, 2009) -- Soldiers at some Army installations can now view their Facebook pages on Army networks.

A recent operations order from both the 93rd Signal Brigade out of Fort Eustis, Va. and the 106th Signal Brigade, out of Fort Sam Houston, Texas, instructed Directors of Information Management to modify Web filtering software to allow access to several social media sites, including Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and Vimeo.

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Additionally, DOIMs were instructed to allow access to Web-based email sites.

The 93rd Signal Brigade and sister brigade, the 106th Signal Brigade, are subordinate to the 7th Signal Command, Fort Gordon, Ga. The 7th Signal Command stood up in August 2008 to assure network access to Army forces inside the continental United States.

The 7th's two subordinate brigades divide responsibility for that mission into two areas of responsibility: the 93rd manages the eastern portion of the United States, while the 106th manages the western portion.

The 7th Signal Command, a new command, currently has operational control over only those network assets on Installation Management Command managed installations and facilities. The May operational order affects only installations in the continental United States, and only those managed by IMCOM.

Network responsibility for installations managed by other commands and activities such as Army Materiel Command and Army Medical Command will come at a later date, said Stephen Bullock, strategic communications officer for the 7th Signal Command.

"The Army is in the process of building an enterprise network, part of that is the IMCOM DOIMs," he said. "Ultimately, all DOIMS will be part of the Global Network Enterprise Construct."

Prior to the issuance of the command, policies varied about which Web sites were accessible on Army networks. Col. Ed Morris, chief of staff of 7th Signal Command, said the operations order standardizes web access across the command's AOR.

"I don't see this as real earth shaking," Morris said. "What you are seeing is the manifestation of 7th Signal Command applying a consistent set of standards."

The policies in place that restrict access to some Web sites serve to ensure network security, information security and uninterrupted network access to those using network services for operational needs.

"Army Regulation 25-1 specifies that government computing systems are to be used to conduct official business and for other authorized purposes," Bullock said. "This helps avoid compromises or disruptions to service."

Joint Task Force-Global Network Operations, under U.S. Strategic Command, is the ultimate authority for which Web sites must be blocked on military networks. In the operations order released by the 93rd and 106th Signal Brigades, 11 Web sites were listed as needing to be blocked. That direction came from JTF-GNO, said Col. Jim Garrison, 93rd Signal Brigade commander.

"Those sites are blocked by JTF-GNO -- a higher level of network management -- the Brigade order is a reinforcement of a previously published JTF-GNO directive, that's why access to those 11 sites is denied," Garrison said.

The commander said the unblocking of some social networking sites was in keeping with direction from Army senior leaders to have Soldiers tell the Army story.

"This order first and foremost is about establishing web-filtering standards. However, it was crafted deliberately to meet the intent of Secretary of the Army and the Chief of Staff of the Army, who are encouraging Soldiers to tell their stories and maintain contact with the American people. Leveraging social media is an effective way to tell the Army story."

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