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DoD Revises Web Policy Guidelines

By Douglas J. Gillert
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 28, 1997 – A new DoD policy sets guidelines for establishing and maintaining a publicly accessible DoD information service on the Internet's World Wide Web.

The policy was signed July 18 by Clifford Bernath, principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, and Anthony Valleta, acting assistant secretary of defense for command, control, communications and intelligence. It spells out what you can and can't do in the Internet information medium.

The policy is posted on DefenseLINK, the DoD home page, at www.defenselink.mil. It stipulates all DoD web sites must:

  • Make information fully and readily available, consistent with legal requirements, unless its release would cause security problems;
  • Provide a free flow of general and military information to service members and their families; and
  • Not classify or otherwise withhold information to protect the government from embarrassment or criticism.

The policy requires DoD web sites to support provisions of the Freedom of Information Act in "letter and spirit."

"These are the same tenets that guide the DoD public information program worldwide," said Air Force Capt. Jim Knotts, deputy for technology integration, DoD public affairs.

The more detailed attachment to the basic memorandum is worth reading by every DoD user and must reading for information managers and web masters, Knotts said. The attachment spells out many legal requirements of DoD web sites, for example, omitting the graphic logos of certain web software components used in building web sites.

"Many DoD web sites display logos of recommended web browsers or document readers, and that's illegal," Knotts said. The three most common logos found on DoD web sites are for Netscape, Microsoft Internet Explorer and Adobe Acrobat, he said. These should be displayed as text only.

Section 4.1.1 of the attachment states all DoD components establishing web sites must ensure:

  • Management oversight and regular functional review of the web information service;
  • Operational integrity and security of the computer and network supporting the service;
  • Validation of the accuracy, consistency, appropriateness and timeliness of all information placed on the service;
  • Registration of the service with the Government Information Locator Service, known as GILS (the registration process is explained on DefenseLINK under "Search"); and
  • Funding, equipping, staffing and training necessary to develop and maintain the service.

A big issue for the Internet worldwide is privacy, and this memorandum addresses the issue with the intent of protecting customer privacy on DefenseLINK and other DoD web sites. Basically, the directive prohibits organizations from identifying individual users and their usage habits, such as other sites visited or e-mail addresses, except for authorized law enforcement investigations. The directive requires a Privacy and Security Act notice be published on every DoD web site warning users of the consequences of attempting to alter or erase information on the web site.

Recognizing that some organizations have legitimate reasons for gathering statistical data on web site visitors, the memorandum tells them how to inform users their visits are being recorded. "We talked to other federal and legal agencies to make sure we aren't violating any statutes, particularly the Privacy Act, and that sites that do collect visitor data properly alert the users in writing on the home page," Knotts said.

"The Internet, in particular the World Wide Web, offers an unprecedented opportunity for the Department of Defense to communicate with the American people," Bernath and Valletta state in the July 18 memorandum. "With those opportunities also come new challenges. This policy document addresses ... important issues related to the use of the World Wide Web as a medium for providing public information to a global audience."

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