Pentagon formalizes ban of geolocation-capable devices

Pentagon formalizes ban of geolocation-capable devices

Strava's Global Heatmap track of activity of its app users via GPS, earlier this year. (Photo: Strava)

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon has banned the use of any device that has GPS “geolocation” capabilities as a further step to protect U.S. service personnel deployed in operational zones, officials said Monday.

The policy, which was finalized on August 3 and announced Monday, stems from incidents earlier this year when Strava, a GPS tracking and information entity, published a global heat map that suggested basing and movements of U.S. forces in foreign garrisons and combat zones based on their use of Fitbits.

“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,” Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan wrote in the memo, which was provided to Pentagon reporters.

The prohibition could include smart phones, tablets, fitness trackers and watches. It does not appear to ban devices if the geolocation service can be turned off.

“We don’t want to give the enemy any unfair advantage,” Pentagon spokesperson Col. Rob Manning told Pentagon reporters Monday. “This is a necessary step to ensure the security of our personnel.”

In regard to media use of such devices, Manning said that most likely would be at the discretion of the local commander.

“When it comes to the punishment provided in the policy, I would say right now that that has to be determined on a case-by-case basis for what echelon of command was responsible for punishing any violations of it, depending on how egregious the violation was obviously,” Manning said.

Operation areas include any war zones, such as Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq and various parts of Africa. It most likely will also include areas where a high-profile operation is occurring, such as with NATO allies or in southeast Asia, Pentagon officials said.

Earlier this year, Defense Secretary James Mattis ordered cellphones and other electronic devices banned from sensitive areas within the Pentagon. Now there are safes throughout Pentagon hallways to place cellphones before entering many rooms.

However, the new policy will not have much impact at the Pentagon, which is not considered an operational area.

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