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

Ebony Scott
August 8, 2018

In a memo obtained by the Associated Press, the new instructions state that "These geolocation capabilities can expose personal information, locations, routines, and numbers of DOD personnel, and potentially create unintended security consequences and increased risk to the joint force and mission".

"The rapidly evolving market of devices, applications, and services with geolocation capabilities presents a significant risk to the Department of Defense personnel on and off duty, and to our military operations globally", the department said in a statement on Monday. 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.

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

Defense officials anxious that individuals could use the map to identify running routes around remote or classified US military bases or in warzones, suggesting that soldiers' lives could be at risk.

After taking their time, higher-ups at the Pentagon decided that the Global Positioning System functionality on mobile devices is a security risk and information from them can be used by enemies of the United States, even if app developers don't voluntarily share it with the world. The global map reflected more than 1 billion paths that the Strava app tracked - but patterns and locations of USA service members could be gleaned from zooming in on sensitive or secured areas.

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The Pentagon in May tightened some of its policies on the use of mobile phones in the building after a months-long review on the issue. The move bars deployed service members from using the devices in "operational areas" unless commanders have granted an exception.

"We don't want to give the enemy any unfair advantage", Army Col. Rob Manning, a Pentagon spokesperson, told reporters on Monday.

In one recent instance, the fitness app Polar revealed locations of people exercising in secretive locations such as intelligence agencies, military bases and airfields, nuclear weapons storage sites, and embassies around the world, Bellingcat reported.

"It's a necessary evolution", he added.

The new policy says the ban applies to all personnel in "operational areas", which Manning said "absolutely" includes troops deployed overseas.

Other reports by GizPress

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