U.S. troops and defense personnel won’t be allowed to use smart watches, tablets, cellphones or fitness trackers with GPS tracking at sensitive locations or in warzone areas, according to a Defense Department memo released Monday.
The Aug. 3 memo, first reported by The Associated Press, does not completely ban the fitness trackers or other electronic devices, but orders that they must be turned off in certain operational areas “effective immediately.”
“The rapidly evolving market of devices, applications, and services with geolocation capabilities presents significant risk to Department of Defense (DoD) personnel both on and off duty, and to our military operations globally,” the memo states.
“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.”
Pentagon spokeswoman Army Maj. Audricia Harris told reporters that it was a blanket restriction on the devices at locations deemed as an “operational area,” which could include ships out at sea, classified bases or warzones or hostile locations in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan or parts of Africa.
Military leaders will be able to conduct risk assessments to determine whether troops under their command can use the devices in the area or on the base they are located.
“The caveat is that combatant commanders can come back and say ‘look, under these circumstances we have assessed the risk and this is our decision,’ ” Harris said.
In all other locations, including the Pentagon, troops and defense personnel will be able to use the GPS-enabled devices if leaders decides it doesn’t pose a risk.
The Pentagon in May tightened some of its policies on the use of mobile phones in the building after a months-long review on the issue. The decision came after concerns were raised about exercise trackers and other electronic devices.
Defense Secretary James Mattis in January had considered a ban on allowing civilian employees at the Pentagon to bring their personal cellphones, prompted in part by several cases where employees brought their personal phones into classified areas.
And social network app company Strava in November published a heat map that showed the running routes of tens of millions of people using the technology.
Defense officials worried that individuals could use the map to identify running routes around remote or classified U.S. military bases or in warzones, suggesting that soldiers’ lives could be at risk.
That memo allowed cellphones to still be used in Pentagon common areas and offices, but made clear the current practice that requires phones be left in daily-use storage containers located outside the secure spaces where sensitive or classified materials are handled or discussed.