US servicemembers and other Defense Department personnel can no longer use fitness trackers or certain other geolocation devices and applications in parts of the world deemed operational areas, including warzones, Pentagon officials announced Monday.
The U.S. military is prohibiting its deployed personnel from using geolocation features on smartphones, fitness trackers and other devices because they could create security risks by revealing their location, the Pentagon said on Monday.
The Department of Defense has banned the use of any smartphone and applications that use geolocation services in operational areas.
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.
"We don't want to give the enemy any unfair advantage", US Army Col. Rob Manning, a Pentagon spokesperson, told reporters on Monday.
If a commander determines the risk is too great, the devices and apps themselves won't be prohibited, so long as the location-tracking features on them can be ― and are ― switched off. But it says the "geolocation capabilities" can present a "significant risk" to military personnel, so those functions must be turned off in certain operational areas. The map is not live, but shows a pattern of accumulated activity.
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.
The memo does say that Combatant Commanders, who oversee U.S. troops around the world, could authorize the use of the devices, but only after conducting "a threat-based comprehensive Operations Security survey".
Defense officials anxious that individuals could use the map to identify running routes around remote or classified USA military bases or in warzones, suggesting that soldiers' lives could be at risk.
This is the second memo affecting the use of electronic devices that the department has released in recent months.
The Strava controversy served as a wakeup call for senior Pentagon officials, at least one of whom admitted to wearing a location-tracking Fitbit all the time. It includes physical fitness aids, applications in phones that track locations, and other devices and apps that pinpoint and track the location of individuals. The Pentagon's response also comes after a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report to Congress calling for "enhanced assessments and guidance ... to address security risks in DoD" posed by internet of things devices.
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