U.S. sued for monitoring troops' blogs

by Saleem Khan, CBC News Online

The U.S. digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation is suing the federal government for details of how the U.S. Army monitors soldiers' blogs [1 MB PDF].

The activity echoes similar restrictions on Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan [Text | Video].

According to the U.S. Army's own news service, the surveillance is conducted by a special unit called the Army Web Risk Assessment Cell (AWRAC):

Based in Arlington, Va., AWRAC was created in 2002 to monitor official websites. Its mission was expanded in August 2005 by order of the Army Chief of Staff to include unofficial sites written by servicemembers.

The EFF sued after the U.S. Department of Defense and the army did not respond to its Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.

The EFF says some soldiers have cut the number or content of their posts or stopped blogging because of the AWRAC.

"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 written statement. "If the Army is colouring or curtailing soldiers' published opinions, Americans need to know about that interference."

AWRAC's mandate is spelled out in the army's Web policy [PDF | Word document]:

The Army Web Risk Assessment Cell (AWRAC) is responsible for reviewing the content-accessible websites. The AWRAC conducts ongoing operational security and threat assessments (.mil and all other domains used for communicating official information) to ensure that they are and Army policies and best practices. The AWRAC will — a. Conduct random sampling of websites to identify security concerns or review website concerns Joint Web Risk Assessment Cell (JWRAC) or Army leadership. b. Ensure inappropriate security and personal information is removed from publicly accessible c. Ensure that Army sites are compliant with other Federal, DOD, and Army website administration example, Government Information Locator Service (GILS) registration). (See also para 6–4n.) d. Notify the website owner with operational responsibility and the IAPMs of the respective the violations and suspense dates for reporting corrective action. e. As required, report deficiencies and corrections to the Army CIO/G–6 and JWRAC.

A link at the bottom of a U.S. Army news article invites people to use AWRAC:

For more on AWRAC or to request a courtesy scan of a blog, go to the team’s website on Army Knowledge Online at https://www.us.army.mil/suite/page/254224.

It remains to be seen if the Canadian Armed Forces follow suit.