Boutelle: Army not blocking political sites

Freedom On the March

The Defense Department is not blocking political Web sites for soldiers serving in Iraq, officials said. Recent reports state that DOD has banned some liberal blogs in the run-up to the midterm elections.

Lt. Gen. Steven Boutelle, the Army’s chief information officer, said there is no policy to filter Web access based on political content. “We would never block political Web sites.… The Army does not do that. That’s something we’ve never done,” Boutelle said.

In recent days, bloggers have posted excerpts from purported letters from soldiers serving in Iraq who say they could not access liberal-leaning Web sites but could visit conservative sites.

One letter, posted on Wonkette, states that when a user tries to access political sites such as Wonkette, they cannot do so and see a message stating that they are “personal pages.” In April, blogs reported that the Air Force had blocked access to the left-leaning Daily Kos and Atrios blogs while allowing soldiers to view conservative ones, such as Free Republic and Little Green Footballs.

Although no official policy exists, unit commanders and systems administrators may be taking Web policy into their own hands.

“To the best of my knowledge, we don’t block any of that stuff,” Boutelle said. “Now if there’s something that’s done locally that I’m not aware of, that’s fully possible.”

Air Force Capt. Gary Arasin, a Central Command spokesman, said systems administrators can request the blocking of specific sites, but officials at the command headquarters level make the final decisions.

“Military computer firewalls and protections in general don’t focus on specific sites but rather filter information by type content,” Arasin said. For example, they might ban pornographic sites or sites that use a lot of bandwidth with streaming audio or video.

But a systems administrator could set up Web site filtering outside the knowledge of senior officials, said a public relations officer at WebSense, which supplies Web-filtering software to the Army.

“We don’t know exactly how they use it,” the public relations officer said. “They can choose the policies however they want to.”

WebSense divides sites into defined categories and allows administrators to block entire categories or individual sites.

Blogs fall under the WebSense category of “productivity categories,” which also includes instant messaging, discussion groups, online brokerage sites and freeware download sites.

Sites representing political groups, such as political parties or advocacy organizations, are categorized as government sites, along with Web sites the military runs.

Regardless of the categories, individuals with systems administrator privileges could set whatever access policies they want, the WebSense officer said.

According to CNN, Army officials in Iraq were able to access both liberal and conservative Web sites but were blocked from social networking sites, such as MySpace.

In 2004, there were several reports that non-DOD casualty-tracking sites were also being blocked because of their content. At that time, a Central Command spokesman acknowledged that individual commanders could block sites featuring non-DOD content, reports state.

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