DOD bans geolocation apps in operational areas

By Tony Bertuca / August 6, 2018 at 12:36 PM

The Pentagon has banned Defense Department personnel from using geolocation features -- like smartphone fitness trackers -- on all personal electronic devices used in operational areas.

“Effective immediately, DOD personnel are prohibited from using geolocation features and functionality on both non-government and government-issued devices, applications, and services while in locations designated as operational areas,” according to an Aug. 3 memo from Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan.

For non-operational areas, DOD leaders are advised to “consider the inherent risks” associated with using electronic devices with geolocation capabilities.

“The rapidly evolving market of devices, applications, and services with geolocation capabilities (e.g., fitness trackers, smartphones, tablets, smartwatches, and related software applications) presents significant risk to Department of Defense (DOD) personnel both on and off duty, and to our military operations globally,” Shanahan writes. “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.”

Shanahan has directed the Pentagon's chief information officer and the under secretary of defense for intelligence to develop joint geolocation risk management guidance and training to inform commanders and other DOD leaders.

“DOD CIO, in collaboration with USD(I), will update the annual Cybersecurity Awareness training to assist DOD personnel in identifying and understanding risks posed by geolocation capabilities embedded in devices and applications,” the memo states.

In developing the policy, officials wanted to give commanders "latitude" and "some type of space to make decisions on the ground," DOD spokesman Col. Rob Manning told reporters at the Pentagon today. 

"When it comes to the punishment provided in the policy, I would say right now that that has to be determined on a case-by-case basis for what echelon of command was responsible for punishing any violations of it, depending on how egregious the violation was obviously," Manning said.

Earlier this year, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis ordered a review of the use of personal electronic devices after U.S. troops inadvertently revealed sensitive information via a popular fitness app.

Additional reporting by Justin Doubleday