March 19, 2019

Pentagon bans smartphones, apps that use geolocation services

08 August 2018, 07:00 | Randall Craig

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

Pentagon puts restrictions on fitness trackers | TheHill

Instead, the memorandum instructs that the devices' geospatial tracking capabilities must be turned off in sensitive or risky operating areas where the exposure of location data could cause a "significant risk" to members of the military.

USA troops and defense personnel won't be allowed to use smart watches, tablets, cellphones or fitness trackers with Global Positioning System tracking at sensitive locations or in warzone areas, according to a Defense Department memo released Monday.

"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", it added.

Military leaders will be able to conduct risk assessments to determine whether troops under their command can use the devices in the area or on the base they are located.

The change comes more than seven months after an worldwide security student, Nathan Ruser, reviewed information released by the GPS tracking company Strava and discovered that a "global heat map" it provided could be used to map the locations of USA troops and other security forces overseas.

"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", according to an August 3 memo from Patrick Shanahan, the deputy secretary of defense.

Deployed personnel are in "operational areas", and commanders will make a determination on other areas where this policy may apply.

Strava posted heat maps showing movements of people exercising while wearing fitness tracker devices and publicly sharing the time and location of their workouts via the app.

"We don't want to give the enemy any unfair advantage", Army Col. Rob Manning, a Pentagon spokesperson, told reporters on Monday. Within the USA, the colorful web of lines was mostly just an interesting way of visualizing runners' data, but in Middle Eastern countries such as Afghanistan, the map showed much more.

The ban takes effect immediately, it said.

Operational areas are places where "military personnel are there for a very specific objective or mission" such as Operation Inherent Resolve or Operation Freedom's Sentinel, according to Maj. The Pentagon also said it would be providing additional cybersecurity training to personnel as it pertains to such devices an apps.

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