Follow DOD's lead, set stringent Web privacy policy

The Defense Department has updated its World Wide Web policy. Must reading for all
federal agency webmasters, it was signed in July by Clifford Bernath, principal deputy
assistant secretary of Defense for public affairs, and Anthony Valletta, acting assistant
secretary of Defense for command, control, communications and intelligence.


The DOD policy is an exhaustive, reasonable document based on considerable practical
experience. It provides an excellent balance of freedom and responsibility in a clear and
cogent manner. Its effect will reach far beyond DOD when civilian agencies model their own
policies on this directive. You can find it at http://www.defenselink.mil/polmemo.html.


The policy is directed to all DOD components with public information on the Web. It's
noteworthy that the document combines public affairs and information technology policy,
just like the DefenseLINK site that is sponsored by DOD Public Affairs and supported by
the Defense Technical Information Center.


The policy clearly favors more, not less, information, supporting the Freedom of
Information Act in both letter and spirit. The directive obliges all DOD Web sites to:


The policy also holds legal requirements. For example, DOD Web sites are to refrain
from using the logos of software vendors.


"Many DOD Web sites display logos of recommended Web browsers or document readers,
and that's illegal," Air Force Capt. Jim Knotts, deputy for technology integration in
DOD public affairs, said. Links to such sites must be in text, lest the agency appears to
be biased.


If it's illegal for DOD, then it's probably no better for civilian agency sites to tout
vendor logos, especially if the products are for sale or encourage nonstandard
applications or extensions that cost our customers extra time and money when they visit
our sites.


Links off the Web site must come with an advisory that DOD does not endorse the
commercial enterprise that is the destination. Moreover, webmasters are to periodically
check these sites to ensure they reflect well on the department, and to remove them if
they do not.


This can be time-consuming, so expect DOD Web sites to cut back on links to private
domains.


The legal attachment also states that DOD components establishing Web sites must
ensure:


When it comes to Web sites, the federal records rules can be confusing. Perhaps the
safest course is to collect obsolete information in archives that a dedicated searcher can
locate but are not indexed by Web search engines.


It's clear from the policy that personal privacy is a significant concern. Except for
authorized law enforcement investigations, the directive prohibits DOD organizations from
identifying users and their usage habits. Many commercial sites--and, unfortunately,
perhaps a few government ones--collect information on their visitors, such as other sites
visited or e-mail addresses.


The DOD directive outlines strict governmentwide rules limiting such practices.


Walter R. Houser, who has more than two decades of experience in federal information
management, is webmaster for a Cabinet agency. His own Web home page is at http://www.cpcug.org/user/houser.


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