If you’re at all concerned with online censorship then you should definitely be concerned about this: Apparently, the US State Department wants to change its staff communications policy in a way that will severely restrict social media interaction, blogging and other writing, including speeches (Washington Post). The changes will also apply to all public speaking and even teaching (DiploPundit).
In essence, the State Department wants to take a couple of days to read over and approve or deny any written material that will be unleashed on the public. This means that if an employee wants to send a tweet, she will have to prepare it two days in advance so that it can be properly vetted. Two days.
Blogs will take up to five days to review.
Never let it be said that the State Department is guilty of spontaneity.
It has to be said that some State employees have access to very sensitive, highly confidential, completely classified information. The powers-that-be could be justified in taking all reasonable steps to protect this information. The key word there is reasonable.
For example, is it reasonable to assume that someone who has proven their credibility to the point where they can be trusted with sensitive information will accidentally let something slip during company Twitter chat? It has to be company chat because the changes are still supposed to give employees freedom in their personal social media capacity – provided they unfailing exhibit “the highest standards of character, integrity and conduct”.
How many people do you know on Twitter or Facebook who never put their foot in it and who don’t, occasionally, show themselves to be less than perfect?
If you’ve been given licence to communicate with media on behalf of any branch of the department, doesn’t that presuppose some common sense? It’d take a real idiot to use the company blog to say something like, “The security code for gate 57 is 666, wear a ski mask because there are cameras in the door hinges.”
Granted, there are plenty of idiots in the world. And there are plenty of malicious people and people who like to play foolish pranks, but it still seems a little over the top, don’t you think?
Emily Heil (Washington Post) says that it could be a knee-jerk reaction to the Peter Van Buren incident – a foreign service officer who wrote a tell-all book about what’s going on in Iraq.
The problem is that people like Van Buren, who have secrets that they simply cannot keep (either because the public has the right to know, or because publishing houses have the right to pay exorbitant sums of money) aren’t going to go through the proper channels. They’re unlikely to submit their work for review.
Back channels and aliases are more likely to be the order of the day.
Plus, whistle blowers have rights, don’t they?
Messing with people’s right to freedom of expression can get very messy indeed; especially in this digitally driven age of over-sharing and WikiLeaks. Do you think the changes are justified? If not, how would you suggest the State protect sensitive information?
Image credit: Hilary Dotson, CC BY-ND 2.0, via Flickr