Pentagon bans fitness trackers from war zones | News | DW | 06.08.2018
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Pentagon bans fitness trackers from war zones

The US military command has banned military troops from using fitness trackers in war zones. Geolaction tools used by the applications can disclose troop locations in war zones and in classified hot spots.

US military troops and other defense personnel at sensitive bases or in certain high-risk warzone areas won't be allowed to use fitness tracker or cellphone applications that can reveal their location, according to a new order from the Pentagon.

The memo, obtained by The Associated Press, stops short of banning the fitness trackers or other electronic devices, which are often linked to cellphone applications or smart watches and can provide the users' GPS and exercise details to social media.

It said the applications on personal or government-issued devices present a  "significant risk" to military personnel and therefore those capabilities must be turned off in certain operational areas.

Under the new order, it will be up to military leaders to determine whether troops under their command can use the GPS function on their devices, based on the security threat in that area or on that base.

"These geolocation capabilities can expose personal information, locations, routines, and numbers of DOD personnel, and potentially create unintended security consequences and increased risk to the joint force and mission," the memo said.

Pinpointing troop locations

Defense personnel who aren't in sensitive areas will still be able to use the GPS applications, if the commanders conclude it doesn't present a risk. As an example, troops working out at major military bases around the country, such at Fort Hood in Texas or Norfolk Naval Station in Virginia, would likely be able to use the location software on their phones or fitness devices.

A fitness tracker (picture-alliance/dpa/A. Heinl)

Fitness trackers can reveal secret military missions

However troops on missions in more sensitive locations, such as Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan or parts of Africa, would be restricted from using the devices or be required to turn off any location function.

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.

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The Global Heat Map, which is published by the GPS tracking company Strava, used satellite information to map the locations of subscribers to Strava's fitness service.

At the time, the map showed activity from 2015 through September 2017. While heavily populated areas were well lit, warzones such as Iraq and Syria showed scattered pockets of activity that could denote military or government personnel using fitness trackers as they moved around.

The Pentagon immediately launched a review, noting that the electronic signals could potentially disclose the location of troops who are in secret or classified locations or on small forward operating bases in hostile areas.

In May, defense officials put out new restrictions for the use of cellphones and other mobile wireless devices inside the Pentagon.

The latest memo states that the new restrictions include GPS functions on fitness trackers, phones, tablets, smart watches and other applications.

The Pentagon also said it would provide additional cybersecurity training to include the risks posed by the trackers and other mobile devices.

av/aw (AP, AFP)

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