Pentagon bans use of geolocators on fitness trackers, smartphones

Grant Boone
August 9, 2018

"Effective immediately, DoD personnel are prohibited from using geolocation features and functionality on both non-government and government-issued devices, applications, and services while in locations designated as operational areas", Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan said in a memo to the leaders of departments within the Pentagon.

According to a memo obtained by the Associated Press, the Pentagon is restricting the use of fitness tracking devices and apps at sensitive bases and some "high-risk warzone areas".

USA military have been banned from using fitness trackers, smartphones and other devices and services over the fear that geolocation features might jeopardize the secrecy of American operations overseas, the Pentagon has announced.

Instead, the memorandum instructs that the devices' geospatial tracking capabilities must be turned off in sensitive or unsafe operating areas where the exposure of location data could cause a "significant risk" to members of the military. Manning, the Pentagon spokesperson, said punishments for doing so would be "determined on a case-by-case basis" and that commanders would be given "some type of space to make decisions on the ground".

The devices themselves will not be banned.

The Pentagon made public a memo issued on Friday which said the geolocation capabilities presented a "significant risk".

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At the time, the map showed activity from 2015 through September 2017.

"We don't want to give the enemy any unfair advantage", Manning told reporters Monday. This has raised security concerns about personnel at United States military bases around the world.

Observers noted that few local residents owned the devices and that the activity seen on the heat map allowed for the mapping of military bases and potentially even top secret sites.

This is the second memo affecting the use of cellphones and other electronic devices that the department has released in recent months. This includes smartphones, smart watches and other devices with Global Positioning System capabilities.

"DoD CIO, in collaboration with Dollars (I), will update the annual Cybersecurity Awareness training to assist DoD personnel in identifying and understanding risks posed by geolocation capabilities embedded in devices and applications", he wrote.

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

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