Pentagon bars troops from using fitness trackers & geolocation services

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The Pentagon announced Monday that it is putting new restrictions on US troops carrying electronics, following revelations early this year that information they were sharing online could be collated to determine the locations of USA bases and units overseas.

"Effective immediately, DoD personnel are prohibited" from using geolocation apps and features, Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick M. Shanahan wrote in a memo sent Monday to all service leaders.

The announcement comes after news stories surfaced earlier this year that fitness apps such as Polar Flow and Strava have been inadvertently giving away locations and habits of USA service members on installations around the world. Geolocation, he said, "can expose information, locations, routines and numbers" of Defense Department personnel, and "potentially create unintended security consequences and increased risk to the joint force and mission".

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.

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 US troops and Defense Department employees.

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.

"We don't want to give the enemy any unfair advantage", Army Col. Rob Manning, a Pentagon spokesperson, told reporters on Monday. 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 cellphones and other electronic devices that the department has released in recent months.

In other words, commanders may decide to restrict the use of geolocation capabilities on devices on areas of installations where "sensitive activities" are conducted, Harris said.

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.

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