New policy allows Marines, defense workers to access social networking sites at work

Beaufort Marines and local civilian Defense Department employees soon will be able to access something they're not used to seeing on their computer screens at work -- the home pages of Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

The Pentagon announced a new policy last week allowing access to popular social networking sites from unclassified government computers. The policy reverses a nearly three-year-old Marine Corps ban on access to the sites. The new directive was the result of a seven-month Pentagon review during which officials weighed the potential benefits and threats posed by the sites.

"(The policy) says you got to give people access to the tools that are going to unleash their creativity and innovation and let them get their jobs done better and faster," David Wennergren, deputy assistant secretary of defense for information management, told The Pentagon Channel. "And at the same time while you are using those tools, you've got to be thoughtful about security."

The policy gives local commanders the ability to monitor and temporarily limit usage if it compromises operational security or consumes too much bandwidth, according to the Pentagon. Access to Internet gambling sites and Web sites featuring pornography or hate crime-related material is still banned.

"You know our networks are under attack and it's everybody's responsibility in the department to make sure they are doing all that they can to protect our information and our information systems," Wennergren said.

The announcement comes as good news for Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort's Public Affairs Office, which has its own Facebook and Twitter accounts. The base was able to access the sites through an agreement with Morris Communications, the civilian publisher of the base newspaper, The Jet Stream, said Gunnery Sgt. Chad McMeen, air station spokesman.

Since November, the public affairs office has used the sites to post stories from The Jet Stream and warn nearby residents of increased jet noise caused by late-night training flights, McMeen said.

"Sites such as our (air station) Facebook page allow two-way communication between the air station public affairs office and our audience," McMeen said. "We now have about 1,700 Facebook fans, and they range from active-duty Marines stationed here to parents who would normally not have access to our news content. A large number of our fans are individuals who were stationed here and ... use the site to stay current on what's happening aboard the base."

"Taxpayers pay our salaries and we feel it's important to have them as a part of this interactive process of sharing information," McMeen added.

Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island is still awaiting clarification from Headquarters Marine Corps on the new policy before testing the social media waters, said Lt. Sharon Hyland, depot spokeswoman.

Attempts to reach officials at Headquarters Marine Corps were unsuccessful.

The Associated Press contributed to the this report.