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 United States personnel across the globe.
"Effective immediately, Defense Department personnel are prohibited from using geolocation features and functionality on government and non-government-issued devices, applications and services while in locations designated as operational areas", the policy memo said.
The move to increase troop security comes in part as a response to exercise-logging company Strava publishing a map compiling its users' activity.
Specifically, their use can be authorized after "conducting a threat-based comprehensive Operations Security (OPSEC) survey" or if the use of geolocation on government-issued devices is necessary to carry out a mission. The Pentagon started looking into it shortly after Strava published a heat map showing where users were exercising, including on military bases at home and overseas.
While the devices themselves will not be banned, service members will be responsible for ensuring their geolocation features are disabled.
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The memo from deputy defense secretary, Patrick Shanahan, takes account of the rapid rise in personal fitness apps, smart wearables and other technology used by soldiers in their spare time which could give enemy operatives clues as to their location, routines and numbers.
The U.S. military is prohibiting its deployed personnel from using geolocation features on smartphones, fitness trackers and other devices because they could create security risks by revealing their location, the Pentagon said on Monday.
Army Col. Rob Manning, a Pentagon spokesman, said potential penalties will be determined on a case-by-case basis by commanders in the field.
Data released by Global Positioning System tracking company Strava in November 2017 shows where the users of fitness devices are around the world, including Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan, as shown in this screenshot.
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.