Soldiers' Blogs Monitored; Group Sues For More Info - InformationWeek
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2/7/2007
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Soldiers' Blogs Monitored; Group Sues For More Info

The suit claims the Defense Department violated the Freedom of Information Act by failing to expedite the Electronic Frontier Foundation's request for information and for withholding agency records.

It's no secret that the military monitors soldiers' Web postings, can remove certain items, and will punish those posting content that violates military rules.

Still, recent publicity about a special military group monitoring soldiers' blogs and other Web postings has gained widespread attention and led to a lawsuit.

After the Army News Service published a short feature article about the Army Web Risk Assessment Cell, several media outlets followed up with stories about the unit. Then, advocacy groups began to question exactly how the monitoring works, what data is collected, and what privacy protections are in place.

Last year, the Electronic Frontier Foundation requested information about the Army's Web site monitoring and asked for an expedited release. Now EFF is suing in a Washington, D.C., U.S. District Court. EFF claims that the Defense Department violated the Freedom of Information Act by failing to expedite EFF's request for information and for withholding agency records.

The group argues soldiers' views are particularly important because of the war in Iraq, and the public has a right to know how military personnel's blogs and Web sites are controlled. It also argues that the need to know is urgent.

"It's important to hear what active-duty military personnel have to say," an EFF spokeswoman said during an interview Tuesday. "Some outlets said last year that they're not blogging anymore, more or less because of the monitoring."

EFF points to news reports stating that the Army Web Risk Assessment Cell monitors hundreds of thousands of Web sites each month and notifies Webmasters and bloggers of inappropriate information.

"Some bloggers have told reporters that they have cut back on their posts or shut down their sites altogether because of the activities of the AWRAC," EFF wrote in a prepared statement.

EFF is seeking information about monitoring procedures as well as orders to revise or delete information.

"Soldiers should be free to blog their thoughts at this critical point in the national debate on the war in Iraq," EFF staff attorney Marcia Hofmann said in a prepared statement. "If the Army is coloring or curtailing soldiers' published opinions, Americans need to know about that interference."

The military has disclosed some information about Web monitoring for information that can compromise the security of soldiers and their families. During previous interviews, a spokesperson for Multi-National Corps -- Iraq confirmed that a written policy states that military personnel owning official or unofficial Web pages, portals, and sites are required to register with their unit's chain of command. They must provide their unit, location, as well as the Webmaster's name and telephone number.

Hofmann said the EFF wants to know if military policies are restricting publication of soldiers' opinions as well.

Some blogging soldiers claim they were demoted after posting information and opinions their superiors deemed inappropriate.

An Army spokesman said the military does not comment on pending litigation.

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