Pentagon restricts use of fitness trackers, other devices

Staff Sgt. Reag Wood of 1st Combined Arms Battalion 5th Brigade 1st Armored Division illustrates how he uses an iphone to obtain a visual image of a mock with insurgent activity during a field training exercise at White Sands Missile Range N.M. (U.S

The Pentagon announced Monday that USA military personnel are no longer allowed to use "geolocation capabilities" on personal or government devices, such as iPhones and fitness-tracking devices, during operational deployments and at the discretion of commanders any other time.

In a memo obtained by the Associated Press, the new instructions state that "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".

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.

According to the Associated Press, commanders have been tasked with determining whether Global Positioning System functionality should be allowed at their location based on the potential security risks that such use could pose.

Annual Cybersecurity Awareness training will also be updated to assist DoD personnel in "identifying and understanding risks posed by geolocation capabilities embedded in devices and applications".

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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.

The global map reflected more than 1 billion paths that the Strava app tracked - but patterns and locations of USA service members could be gleaned from zooming in on sensitive or secured areas. And while heavily populated areas were well lit, warzones such as Iraq and Syria show scattered pockets of activity that could denote military or government personnel using fitness trackers as they move around.

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. But it also stopped short of banning the devices, and instead made clear that cellphones can still be used in common areas and other offices in the Pentagon if classified information is not present.

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