No returning to days of tight control of news

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The U.S. military's edict banning soldiers from using its network to post YouTube movies shows just how different a world we live in today.

It also shows how a powerful tool like the Internet can help or hurt the military's effort to complete its mission.

From telegraphed dispatches from the Civil War, newsreels and radio reports from World War II, to the grainy videos that nightly brought the Vietnam War into our living rooms, word from the front has always been a key factor in the formula that won or lost a national conflict.

But personal contact has always been at a premium, whether the months-old censored letters from the South Pacific or static-y telephone calls from Korea.

That all changed with the advent of the Internet, and when young, technologically-hip soldiers were called to serve their country.

Now an e-mail from the front is a common occurrence, and videos and images can be distributed worldwide by anyone with a computer and a connection to the World Wide Web.

The military is understandably wary of that power; witness the power of e-mailed images from the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad. Frankly, we're surprised the military has allowed open access as long as it has.

But this week, after warning of the coming change in February, the military forbade service members from accessing video-sharing sites like YouTube, Metacafe, IFilm, StupidVideos and FileCabi; social networking sites MySpace, BlackPlanet and Hi5; music sites Pandora, MTV, 1.fm and live365, and the photo-sharing site Photobucket.

The Pentagon cited security concerns and bandwidth in cutting off access to those sites for personnel using the Defense Department's computer network.

Of course, the military isn't the only Internet service provider in Iraq; there are Internet cafes operated by a private vendor.

One could argue that our troops are there to fight a war, not stream the same funny videos that waste thousands of hours and terabytes of bandwidth in offices around the country.

And, the military has legitimate concern that our enemies could gain dangerous knowledge about procedures, equipment and troop strength by surfing sites used by our troops.

But the Pentagon is wise enough to know that there will be no return to the day when the flow of news can be controlled from the source through a handful of major outlets.

Plus, with our dependence on volunteer military forces, keeping service personnel in contact with their families back home is more important than ever.

One thing is for sure; al Qaeda won't face any such restrictions.

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