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Soldiers React to Blogging 'Ban'

Are American soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq losing their first amendment rights? A controversy continued to stir heading into Memorial Day weekend over new rules restricting soldier's creation of blogs.

Earlier this month, news broke that on April 17 the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) and the U.S. Army updated their Operations Security (OPSEC) policy to require soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq notify their immediate supervisor when they want to publish a blog. After notifying an OPSEC officer or a supervisor, soldiers are allowed to blog, so long as they don't disclose information not available to the general public, Major Patrick Ryder told internetnews.com.

Information not available to the general public includes comments on daily military activities and operations, unit morale, results of operations, status of equipment and other security sensitive information, Ryder said.

According to Ryder, the updated policy is meant to enhance and increase network security and protect the use of DoD bandwidth. A statement from the U.S. Army said the policy is also intended to protect soldiers on the battlefield.

But Colby Buzzell, author of the 2007 Lulu Blooker Prize-winning book My War: Killing Time In Iraq, fears the updated policy could silence soldiers. He said he was "shocked" by the news.

Buzzell told internetnews.com if the same policy had been in place during his tour in Iraq, he wouldn't have been able to write the blog which his book is based on.

"There's no way in hell I'd be able to blog now," Buzzell said. "What I liked about blogging was the anonymity of it--how no one knows who you are. But now you have to get it approved by the chain of command and that's too much of a hassle for me."

Buzzell also said he's suspicious that the policy was updated for more reasons than soldier safety.

"They want to control what information gets reported to the people back home," Buzzell said. "Its somewhat hard to censor blogs and the quick fix solution is to not allow them."

Given the long list of blurbs touting My War, it's safe to say some might consider the loss of Buzzell's on-the-ground account of the Iraq war too high a price to pay for the updated policy.

But don't count Army Specialist Jean-Paul Borda among that crowd. Borda founded Milblogging.com before selling it to Military.com. He's also a veteran of Afghanistan and he's returning to Iraq shortly.

His view is that the updated policy is not the de facto ban as Buzzell and others characterize it.

"I don't think it's going to change anything in the way I [blog]," Borda told internetnews.com. Borda said it wouldn't be a problem notifying his platoon sergeant that he intends to blog because he is an active blogger too.

Beyond that, Borda said he appreciates the intent behind the updated policy. His position is that most soldiers want to comply with OPSEC and the updated policy can only help clarify what's appropriate for them to write in a blog.

It's also the Defense Department's right to monitor how its equipment is used by employees, Borda argued, noting the practice is common in the private sector.

"If you're in the military it's just like if I worked at Coca-Cola. I'm not going to talk about a new formula for a new soda and then post it on the Internet," Borda said.

But few are likely to describe a book written by a Coca-Cola employee as an "Incredible [account] of combat from a grunt's-eye-view," as Rolling Stone Magazine did Buzzell's book. By the same token, a slip from a Coca-Cola employee isn't likely to result in the tragedy compromised security can bring to soldiers and their families.

In the end, Borda and Buzzell only speak for two of the many views soldiers hold on the updated policy. And the fact is, any soldier in Afghanistan and Iraq can still join the debate on the Web. Their commanding officer just has to know about it.