Pentagon restricts use of fitness trackers, other electronic devices that reveal locations

Modesto Morganelli
Agosto 7, 2018

For all other locations, such as installations in the United States and overseas, "the heads of DoD components will consider the inherent risks associated with geolocation capabilities on devices, applications, and services, both non-government and government-issued, by personnel both on and off duty", the memo states.

Geolocation capabilities can expose personal information, locations, routines, and numbers of Defense Department personnel, and "potentially create unintended security consequences and increased risk to the joint force and mission", the memo states.

"Effective immediately, Defense Department personnel are prohibited from using geolocation features and functionality on government and non-government-issued devices, applications and services while in locations designated as operational areas", the policy memo said.

Shanahan said in the memo, dated August 3 and released Monday, that the rapidly evolving market of devices, applications and services using geolocation "presents significant risk" to USA troops and Defense Department employees.

Deployed personnel are in "operational areas", and commanders will make a determination on other areas where this policy may apply. Troops on missions in more sensitive locations, such as Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan or parts of Africa, meanwhile, would be restricted from using the devices or be required to turn off any location function.

The Pentagon announced Monday that it is putting new restrictions on US troops carrying electronics, following revelations early this year that information they were sharing online could be collated to determine the locations of USA bases and units overseas.

The Pentagon said in January it was reviewing policies regarding such devices after it was revealed that Strava, a fitness tracking app that maps people's exercise habits, may have inadvertently revealed the locations of security forces around the world.

Outlines of USA outposts in Syria and Iraq could be seen in the maps because many US military personnel used fitness tracking devices, while few local people own them, according to media reports.

The policy applies to fitness trackers, cellphones, smartwatches and other electronics that can be tracked using Global Positioning System technology.

Within 30 days of the memo's release, the DoD chief information officer and the under secretary of defense for intelligence will jointly develop geolocation risk management guidance and training to inform commanders and heads of DoD components when making risk decisions regarding these devices, according to the memo.

That memo called for stricter adherence to long-held practices that require phones be left in storage containers outside secure areas where sensitive matters are discussed.

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