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

07 August 2018

The Defense Department will also provide training on the risks that fitness trackers bring.

"These geolocation capabilities can expose personal information, locations, routines, and numbers of Department personnel, and potentially create unintended security consequences and increased risk to the joint force and mission", it said. But Defense Department leadership stopped short of instructing troops to leave their wearable devices at home.

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.

Military commanders will be able to make a judgment call on when troops can power up their smart devices, depending on the status of their operation. 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.

Manning said that commanders would have some flexibility with regard to enforcing the ban and punishing potential violators.

Pentagon spokesperson Col. Rob Manning told reporters on Monday that the new policy ensures "we're not giving the enemy an unfair advantage", while at the same time "keeping pace with technology".

The restrictions were issued some six months after the location and movements of US troops were included in a usage map published by the Strava fitness tracking company.

Following several incidents in which U.S. military bases and patrol routes have been compromised by fitness trackers used by soldiers deployed to sensitive locations overseas, the Pentagon banned using any gadgets that can pinpoint the location of United States personnel across the globe.

USA troops walk outside their base in Uruzgan province, Afghanistan July 7, 2017. The decision came after concerns were raised about exercise trackers and other electronic devices. In May, defense officials laid out new restrictions for the use of cellphones and other mobile wireless devices inside the Pentagon.

That memo allowed cellphones to still be used in Pentagon common areas and offices, but made clear the current practice that requires phones be left in daily-use storage containers located outside the secure spaces where sensitive or classified materials are handled or discussed.

The latest memo says the new restrictions include Global Positioning System functions on fitness trackers, phones, tablets, smart watches and other applications.

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