Saturday, April 12, 2008

You, Facebook and National Security

Facebook is by far the most popular social networking site on the net. On it, one can socialize, find old friends from a distant past, advertise events and gather support for causes. Unless you are technophobic it can be a very useful tool.
However, the fast spread of Facebook raises a number of questions; two of them worthy of debate.

The first issue is reconnecting with people from our past. If we managed to live for years and thrive without talking to and hearing from someone, what’s the purpose of suddenly pretending that the are indeed part of your present. And they are still unlikely to be part of your future. How many of you readers have on their Facebook list contacts they do not actually contact!

The second issue is more important, it is about blurring the boundaries between the professional and the private. While employees and companies have set up Facebook networks to promote a friendly image, the drawback is that random colleagues now access our personal picture albums, our family life and our social environment. It gets even more complicated when the colleague is your manager. Would you dare to ignore his 'friendship' request? Or would you risk it to protect your privacy?

Along these lines, Facebook has now become a national security threat in Israel where the military has recently introduced restrictive measures banning soldiers from posting on their pages pictures showing sensitive military subjects .
The following article by BBC Journalist Martin Asser gives some insight into the problematic relationship between the Israeli Army and Facebook.

Bachir Habib

Israeli army in Facebook clampdown

Martin Asser, BBC, Jerusalem

Israeli defence chiefs have moved to tighten internet social networking rules after photographs appeared showing sensitive military subjects.
A review of Facebook pages belonging to Israeli troops found that some had posted detailed pictures of air bases, operations rooms and submarines. "These are things we don't want the public to see for security reasons," an official source told the BBC.
Posting photos of troops in uniform - a popular pastime - is still allowed.
The new set of rules - which has not been made public - includes a ban on images of pilots and members of special units, and anything that shows specific military manoeuvres.
The defence ministry launched its inquiry earlier in the year to check the potential security risk in the dozens of social networking groups dedicated to life in the Israeli military. Compulsory military service is a rite of passage experienced by large numbers of young Israelis and in recent years they have shared their experiences through photos and web-posted accounts of their activities.
"There's a lot of illegal photography inside the Israeli Defence Forces, including the Israeli Air Force," a source inside the air force told the BBC.
"Most of the soldiers don't understand how much damage it may cause," the source added. The military source, who cannot be identified, says a few of his comrades are authorised to take pictures at their bases and to post them on Flickr.
Every photo is vetted by military censors, and the ones considered appropriate are assured a warm reception by the many enthusiasts of military hardware in the Flickr community.
But the defence ministry says military tribunals have investigated and disciplined about 100 soldiers who broke the rules and unwittingly helped the enemy this year.
It may seem a large number, but the defence ministry source said: "Considering the number of soldiers there are with social networking websites, it is a tiny proportion."
The worst offenders were punished with a month in jail for particularly egregious posts, while others were warned they would face similar punishment if they re-offended.

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