Pentagon restricts use of location-logging fitness trackers

Henrietta Strickland
August 7, 2018

Troops in deployed locations are immediately prohibited from using the geolocation features in private and government devices unless a military combatant commander authorizes it, the Pentagon memo said, the Examiner reported.

Following several incidents in which USA 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 U.S. personnel across the globe.

Deployed personnel are in "operational areas", and commanders will make a determination on other areas where this policy may apply.

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.

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

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.

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".

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. And while heavily populated areas were well lit, war zones such as Iraq and Syria showed scattered pockets of activity that could denote military or government personnel using fitness trackers as they move around.

Concerns about exercise trackers and other electronic devices made headlines in January in the wake of revelations that an interactive, online map was pinpointing troop locations, bases and other sensitive areas around the world.

The Pentagon in May tightened some of its policies on the use of mobile phones in the building after a months-long review on the issue. But it says the "geolocation capabilities" can present a "significant risk" to military personnel, so those functions must be turned off in certain operational areas.

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".

Heather Pierce, a spokeswoman for Fitbit, said Monday: "Fitbit is committed to protecting consumer privacy and keeping data safe".

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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