Sandra Jontz, Stars and Stripes, reports:

On Tuesday, the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps blocked all access to commercial e-mail services, such as Yahoo!, Hotmail, America Online and Google, from overseas government computers.

And not just at office workstations.

The block includes access to e-mail services from computers at base libraries and liberty centers that are connected to an official government network.

“This concerns us, because so many of our patrons won’t be able to access their e-mail, and many come to the library to do just that,” said Ciro Giordano, supervisory librarian at Naval Support Activity Naples, Italy.

But access to such services leaves the unclassified government network too susceptible to hackers and computer viruses, said Neal Miller, a senior plans and policy manager with Naval Network Warfare Command in Norfolk, Va.

“By going through some of the commercial Web-based e-mail accounts, it opens up vulnerabilities to government-run networks and presents too high [of a] risk to be acceptable,” Miller said.

The policy covers sailors, Marines and DOD employees and contractors using Navy Department computers, and applies to those downrange who operate on Navy computer systems.

Navy and Marine Corps personnel attached to Army, Air Force or joint combatant commands fall under those services’ policies.

Margaret McBride, spokeswoman for the Army’s Chief Information Officer, said the Army has no similar restrictions on commercial e-mail access and no current plans to block those sites.

The Air Force did not respond in time for this edition.

The policy blocks viewers from accessing commercial e-mail accounts while using a government computer, but does not prevent them from using their .mil accounts to send e-mail to, or receive e-mail from, those who use commercial e-mail accounts.

People still can take care of personal business using their unclassified work e-mail accounts, within reason, and only if work schedules permit. The Navy assigns all sailors and Marines an official, unclassified e-mail address, which they can use to communicate with family and friends.

“There’s no substitute for sound judgment,” Miller said.

The block will not stop users from using commercial search engines, Miller said.

People can still pay car insurance, order contact lenses, or e-mail mom and dad from government computers — which are subject to monitoring — but they cannot visit hate group Web sites, view pornography, or run their own business, he said citing a few examples.

The block was effective Oct. 12 for computers on ships and most of the computers using the Navy-Marine Corps intranet servers in the United States.

There are some Navy and Marine Corps bases where Morale, Welfare and Recreation operates its own servers or networks and won’t be affected by the blockage, Miller said.

Other bases — such as Naples — don’t have that luxury.

While MWR is looking for options, such as its own network, until Tuesday it was the library’s government-connected network that provided a crucial service for those without private access to computers, such as the single sailors living in the barracks or those in transit and staying at base hotels, librarian Lucinda Simpson said.

And it includes dependents like Patricia Rovito, 40, who after 10 months in Italy only recently got her home telephone turned on, let alone having Internet access.

“This is the only way I can check my e-mail,” she said, sitting at a library computer. “This is going to be a pretty sizable hit to morale. I understand the Navy has its concerns, but this is not going to be favorably accepted.”