World Wide Web could bring a world of trouble

SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- As Airmen, the World Wide Web has become a part of our daily lives. 

Most of us use it daily to check e-mail, manage finances, read news articles and many other things. A growing number of Airmen also use the Internet to socialize and express their opinions. 

Several social networking Web sites such as MySpace, Facebook and Blogger allow their users to post their personal opinions and information, such as biographical information, pictures and favorite songs on the Internet. Anyone surfing the Web can search a key term such as "bicycling" to find people with similar interests who have already posted information to the Web site. 

Logging on to a social networking Web site is a great way to meet people, but it is also a form of public expression that could get you into serious trouble, with adverse actions ranging from verbal counseling to trial by court martial. It also opens the possibility of becoming a victim of cyber crime. 

When you are posting information on any Web site, remember that as a military member, you are held to a higher standard of conduct than the average citizen, regardless of who is looking or where you are. Be extra careful when posting information on a blog or social networking Web site because any random person could find the information you post on a simple Web search. 

Here are some tips on staying safe while posting your personal information on a Web site:

Unprofessional expression
While we as Airmen have a constitutional right of free speech, by joining the Air Force we accepted some restrictions to these freedoms. These restrictions apply when you log in to cyberspace where your identity seems to change from Joe Smith to JSmitty83. 

For example, just as you would expect to get into hot water by tacking an obscene picture or message on an office bulletin board, you should expect the same if you would post an obscene picture or message on the Web. Posting criticism of the armed services, the president or your chain of command is also prohibited.

Air Force Endorsement
If you identify yourself as a military member, you cannot state or even imply that the Air Force has sanctioned your Web postings. Specifically, you cannot use an official title, position or organization in connection with unofficial activities. 

For example, using the words "USAF Gangsters" for your buddy list would violate the Joint Ethics Regulation and make you vulnerable to prosecution or administrative actions.

Wear of Uniform
While posting your picture in uniform on your Web site is not by itself illegal, it is prohibited if it brings discredit to the U.S. Air Force. This is especially so if you are depicted as engaging in inappropriate conduct or making obscene gestures.

Military Equal Opportunity
Any posted language that can be construed as racially or sexually disparaging is prohibited. These remarks constitute unlawful discrimination and are always inappropriate for professional Air Force members, online or off-line.

OPSEC
Posting comments or photographs relating to upcoming deployments, layout of our installation and other sensitive information is unacceptable because doing so may make the base and its personnel vulnerable.

Cyber crime
For your own safety, be careful not to post too much information about yourself on your site. Doing so could give a Web stalker enough information to decide that you are a vulnerable target for such crimes as identity theft, burglary, and even sexual assault. 

Remember that force protection is a 24-hour duty and includes protecting yourself in cyberspace. 

If you have any questions on a specific legal issue, please make an appointment with the Sheppard Law Center. Our number is (940) 676-4262 / DSN 736-4262. Our Web site is https://webm.sheppard.af.mil/82trwja/index.html.