The military has a duty to protect classified information, but it needs to ensure that its classifications and systems don’t impede the First Amendment rights of service men and women, says Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., in response to an Air Force memo banning access to articles about the NSA leak story on the military branch’s unsecured Internet system.

“If it’s in the public domain, it’s hard to make a case that military members – who are still citizens and protected by the Constitution – should not read the news about what government is doing,” Hunter told WND.

As WND reported, the Air Force issued a NOTAM – a Notice to Airmen – that warned users of the military’s unclassified computer network not to look at news stories regarding the NSA-Verizon scandal because it could trigger a Classified Message Incident.

A Classified Message Incident is prompted when classified material or information is transmitted over an unsecure military network.

The story originally reported by the Guardian newspaper of London of the top-secret court order requiring Verizon to hand over all of its call data on an ongoing basis to the National Security Agency included a link to the classified information.

Hunter, a U.S. Marine combat veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, said there’s a “bigger issue with classifications and access, which, if anything, should prompt concerns on the part of officials.”

While members of the Air Force in the U.S. have access to the Internet through other means, some members based overseas who contacted WND said the Air Force’s NIPRNET service is their only access. At a time of increasing distrust toward government, they regarded the order as censorship.

Users, some point out, were warned even to not search for news stories related to the NSA-Verizon scandal.

WND reached out to the airman who notified WND of the Air Force notice, who asked not to be identified.

Asked if the NOTAM was a necessary precaution to prevent a Classified Message Incident, he replied: “This is not about securing the network from a ‘shutdown,’ this is the Air Force taking the stance that the news is classified, based on the documents released being classified.”

Another airman wrote: “There was NO classified information being put on unclassified systems, merely a story being related about someone else leaking classified information. That’s a news story, not a compromise.”

One airman stationed overseas said: “It is worse than you think … please stay on top of it.”

Email correspondence between airmen stationed in Southeast Asia sent to WND reflect frustration over the dictate.

In an email to his subordinates, one officer warned NIPRNET users that they could jeopardize their future by searching for the news stories.

“I wanted to make sure that all of you read this [NOTAM] because just doing a simple search could jeopardize your future. In summary, anything to do with the recent news about the NSA and Verizon phone records are considered classified and searching news or records about these on our NIPRNET computers is unauthorized.”

An airman forwarded the superior’s email with a message of his own:

“I am sending you this to forward on. This is censorship of our military especially those of us deployed to fight for our rights that are being trampled upon. I understand [not to download] the document but we cannot even read articles from news agencies on it.”

Here is the full exchange:

The original NOTAM:

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