The Pentagon is banning deployed personnel from using fitness trackers, smartphones and potentially even dating apps that use geolocating features that could reveal the user’s location.
The ban was announced in a Pentagon memorandum issued Friday and signed by Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan.
“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 Pentagon said in January it was reviewing policies regarding such devices after it was revealed that Strava, a fitness tracking app that maps people’s exercise habits, may have inadvertently revealed the locations of security forces around the world.
“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.
“This is all electronic devices that have geolocating features, basically GPS enabled devices, applications, that type of thing,” Manning added.
While the devices themselves will not be banned, service members will be responsible for ensuring their geolocation features are disabled.
Many popular devices and applications, including smartphones, smart watches, fitness and dating apps use geolocation and some applications could potentially not work with the geolocation features turned off.
The new policy says the ban applies to all personnel in “operational areas,” which Manning said “absolutely” includes troops deployed overseas.
Manning said that commanders would have some flexibility with regard to enforcing the ban and punishing potential violators.
“It would depend on how egregious the infraction was obviously, but again, commanders are given some latitude within the policy,” he said.
The memo does say that Combatant Commanders, who oversee US troops around the world, could authorize the use of the devices, but only after conducting “a threat-based comprehensive Operations Security survey.”
The ban would not affect military and civilian personnel in places like the Pentagon.