Monday, 20 August, 2018

Pentagon restricts use of geolocation software for troops

Pentagon puts restrictions on fitness trackers | TheHill Pentagon restricts use of fitness trackers, other electronic devices that reveal locations
Melissa Porter | 08 August, 2018, 18:57

Effective immediately, troops and Defense Department personnel working in certain operational areas such as war zones are prohibited from using Global Positioning System features on any government or private gear.

"The rapidly evolving market of devices, applications and services with geolocation capabilities presents a significant risk to the Department of Defense personnel on and off duty, and to our military operations globally".

Journalists quickly started using the Global Heatmap to identify what they believed to be the locations of other USA personnel, including a suspected Central Intelligence Agency base near Mogadishu, Somalia, and US troops operating in the Sahel region of Africa. Within the United States, the colorful web of lines was mostly just an interesting way of visualizing runners' data, but in Middle Eastern countries such as Afghanistan, the map showed much more.

The Department of Defense is prohibiting personnel from using geolocation features on their devices while serving in certain locations after concerns that the information transmitted from such devices was jeopardizing the security of American forces around the world, including those deployed in classified or sensitive areas. Such devices and apps can, for instance, reveal service members' personal information, locations, routines, and more.

The new restrictions come after the fitness app Strava introduced a "heatmap" feature late previous year showing where users workout, inadvertently making it easy to find hidden American military bases overseas.

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

Observers noted that few local residents owned the devices and that the activity seen on the heat map allowed for the mapping of military bases and potentially even top secret sites.

The ban takes effect immediately, it said.

This is the second memo affecting the use of electronic devices that the department has released in recent months. But the report stopped short of banning fitness trackers or other electronic devices outright.

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 called for stricter adherence to long-held practices that require phones be left in storage containers outside secure areas. That information can present enemies with information on military operations.