January 19, 2019

The Pentagon bans the use of mobile location services for security reasons

08 August 2018, 07:00 | Rodolfo Wallace

The Pentagon bans the use of mobile location services for security reasons

The Pentagon bans the use of mobile location services for security reasons

USA troops and defence personnel at military bases in warzones won't be allowed to use fitness-tracker apps, according to a new Pentagon order, after location data allowed users to infer the location of secret bases.

"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", said the memo. But Defense Department leadership stopped short of instructing troops to leave their wearable devices at home.

The Pentagon announced in a Friday memorandum that it would be banning the use of Global Positioning System features on all devices and applications at locations "designated as operational areas".

Operational areas mostly consist of sensitive overseas locations where USA personnel are deployed.

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.

Journalists quickly started using the Global Heatmap to identify what they believed to be the locations of other USA personnel, including a suspected Central Intelligence Agency base near Mogadishu, Somalia, and US troops operating in the Sahel region of Africa.

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"We don't want to give the enemy any unfair advantage", Army Col. Rob Manning, a Pentagon spokesperson, told reporters on Monday. The map showed bright spots of activity in places such as Syria and Somalia, where there were otherwise few users of fitness trackers.

This was all sparked when reports surfaced earlier this year of a fitness-tracking company, Strava, publishing maps showing where users jog, bike and exercise.

Those who violate the ban on geolocation features will be dealt with on a case by case basis depending on the severity of the infraction, Manning said.

This is the second memo affecting the use of electronic devices that the department has released in recent months.

While active duty soldiers carry their personal devices to operational areas, they can't take them on missions, so they're left communicating through encrypted radios that haven't changed much since World War II. In May, defence officials laid out new restrictions for the use of cellphones and other mobile wireless devices inside the Pentagon.

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