• How Open Is Too Open?

    by  • March 31, 2010 • eGovernment

    According to a new memo from the Marine Corps, Marines will now be allowed to access social media sites like Facebook, twitter, etc on the unclassified network.

    There are still significant and mission necessary restrictions in the memo such as accessing adult content, gambling sites, or promoting hate speech but in any workplace, not just the government, these types of restrictions are necessary and appropriate. And the memo is very clear on appropriate training being provided for those who would use this capability. Not sure what the training will be, but it will definitely include OPSEC given some recent issues or potential problems with soldiers in other countries.

    Personally, I think it is great that the Marine Corp is open up social media to Marines. It is almost the equivalent to me being able to call home from my commanders cell phone in his Humvee to check on my sick wife while I was in Saudi Arabia during Desert Shield/Desert Storm.

    But I said almost. Cell phones at the time were inherently more secure then what social media is today. Which brought me to the question – what is too open for government?

    We have had a lot of conversations that government needs to be more open. That agencies need to be better engaged with citizens. That missions need to be clearer and efforts and purposes of programs need to be more transparent. I know this effort is just launching, and may not survive liftoff, but now is the time to start asking how far should we go?

    It seems straight forward that our national intelligence infrastructure, law enforcement, and defense activities should be the most restricted. But what does that mean? Does that mean a secretary who works for the CIA is not allowed to have a Facebook page? Or how about a military officer having their own blog about some benign subject like cooking? I don’t know.

    How about staffers at the White House or on the Hill? How restricted should they be? The are previous cases of leaking – who could forget not to distant story about the Hill staffer and the Washingtonienne blog?

    What about the “more mundane” government efforts and programs – should they be restricted?  Now that the President has determined to open up additional areas in the Gulf of Mexico and off the coast of Virginia for offshore oil and gas exploration – a program run by the little know Minerals Management Service (MMS) within the Department of the Interior – how restricted should MMS employees be about their social media usage?

    What about agencies like the National Labor Relations Board, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Transportation Security Administration or others? Our government obviously keeps a lot of secrets and it is very necessary that we continue to keep those.  How many of those should we continue to keep?

    The Bottom Line: An old colleague of mine at Interior once reminded me that it is just important to define not only what you will do, but also what you won’t. When it comes to open government, I applaud the efforts to make government more open, but it would be great to have some direction on what we will not open up. We need that so government managers and external watchdogs know the boundaries of the playing field. What do you think?