The new policy, which is effective immediately, follows reports from earlier this year that some wearable electronic devices, like the popular Fitbit, can convey users' Global Positioning System coordinates in the form of publicly available online maps that display the most frequently trafficked routes of users who allowed their location to be shared.
USA military troops and other defense personnel at sensitive bases or certain high-risk war zone areas won't be allowed to use features on fitness trackers or cellphone applications that can reveal their location, according to a new Pentagon order.
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. The map prompted fears among security experts that people could use such data to plan attacks on USA troops.
"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", Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said in a memo. The map showed bright spots of activity in places such as Syria and Somalia, where there were otherwise few users of fitness trackers.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis ordered a review of personal electronics and fitness trackers afterward and initially left open the possibility that the use of electronics in stateside locations such as the Pentagon could be drastically curtailed.
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Concerns about exercise trackers and other electronic devices came to a head in January in the wake of revelations that an interactive, online map was pinpointing troop locations, bases and other sensitive areas around the world.
Combatant commanders may authorize the use of geolocation capabilities on non-government devices, applications, and services in operational areas after conducting a "threat-based comprehensive Operations Security (OPSEC) survey", according to the memo.
"It goes back to making sure we're not giving the enemy an unfair advantage and we're not showcasing the exact location of our troops worldwide", Pentagon spokesman Col. Rob Manning told reporters Monday.
While the devices themselves will not be banned, service members will be responsible for ensuring their geolocation features are disabled.
Army Col. Rob Manning, a Pentagon spokesman, said it's a move to ensure the enemy can't easily target US forces.