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.
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.
There was little clarity Monday on how the new policy banning USA troops from using geolocation will be enforced. "But more than that, one of the most important and disturbing elements of the map is that it's possible to establish an understanding of how the base works".
The restriction likely won't affect troops and personnel at major military bases in the US or the Pentagon itself; but those in more sensitive locations like Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan will probably be impacted. The map showed bright spots of activity in places such as Syria and Somalia, where there were otherwise few users of fitness trackers.
At the time, the Pentagon insisted that the classified or sensitive locations of US service members had not been compromised by the data.
USA troops and civilian Defense Department employees are now prohibited from using geolocation features or functionality on government-issued and personal devices while in locations identified as "operational areas", according to a new memo signed by Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick M. Shanahan.
Operational areas mostly consist of sensitive overseas locations where USA personnel are deployed.
The move to increase troop security comes in part as a response to exercise-logging company Strava publishing a map compiling its users' activity.
Tablets, smart phones, smart watches and fitness devices will no longer be allowed to be turned on in warzone areas, according to a Defense Department memo.
"As we were developing it, we wanted to be very clear about giving commanders latitude, some type of space, to make decisions on the ground", said Col. Rob Manning, the Pentagon press operations director, the Examiner reported.
While the devices themselves will not be banned, service members will be responsible for ensuring their geolocation features are disabled.
"It's a necessary evolution", he added.
Manning said that commanders would have some flexibility with regard to enforcing the ban and punishing potential violators.
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