Pentagon restricts use of fitness trackers, other devices

WASHINGTON (AP) — Military troops and other defense personnel at sensitive bases or 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 Pentagon order.

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

Under the new order, military leaders will be able 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.

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MARJA, AFGHANISTAN - SEPTEMBER 29: U.S. Army flight medic SGT Tyrone Jordan (C) of Charlotte, North Carolina and crew chief SGT Charles Winscott of Columbia, Missouri (L) from Dustoff Task Force Shadow of the 101st Combat Aviation Brigade gives first aid to a prisoner after he was shot by Marines during a morning firefight while Marine LCpl. Kristopher Brown of Fayetteville, North Carolina provides security aboard a MEDEVAC helicopter September 29, 2010 near Marja, Afghanistan. Task Force Shadow is responsible for evacuating wounded Afghani and Coalition forces as well as local nationals throughout southern Afghanistan. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN - MARCH 19: Afghan soldiers (L) speak to a local Afghan, while a medic in the U.S. Army's 1st Battalion, 36th Infantry Regiment, Charlie Company (R) monitors a soldier who has just survived a blast from an improvised explosive device (IED) while driving a vehicle during a mission near Command Outpost Pa'in Kalay, on March 19, 2013 in Kandahar Province, Maiwand District, Afghanistan. The soldier suffered a concussion and a sore arm from the blast. The United States military and its allies are in the midst of training and transitioning power to the Afghan National Security Forces in order to withdraw from the country by 2014. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
MARJA, AFGHANISTAN - SEPTEMBER 24: U.S. Army flight medic SGT Tyrone Jordan of Charlotte, NC attached to Dustoff Task Force Shadow of the 101st Combat Aviation Brigade surveys the area for a wounded Marine after jumping out of a MEDEVAC helicopter September 24, 2010 near Marja, Afghanistan. Two Marines were wounded at the location by an improvised explosive device (IED). Task Force Shadow is responsible for evacuating wounded Afghani and Coalition forces as well as local nationals throughout southern Afghanistan. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
US flight medic sergeant Megan Ford from US Army's Task Force Lift 'Dust Off', Charlie Company 1-171 Aviation regiment runs to the medevac helicopter to fly on a mission to airlift a severely wounded elderly Afghan man who was shot in the face in Helmand province on November 6, 2011. The United Nations says the number of civilians killed in the Afghanistan war in the first half of this year rose 15 percent to 1,462, with insurgents behind 80 percent. AFP PHOTO/BEHROUZ MEHRI (Photo credit should read BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images)
US military medics treat a mock victim in a tent during a joint medical evacuatioin exercise as part of the annual massive military exercises, known as Key Resolve and Foal Eagle, at a South Korean Army hospital in Goyang, northwest of Seoul, on March 15, 2017. South Korea and the United States kicked off their annual, massive military exercises on March 1 as North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un ordered his troops to prepare for a 'merciless strike' against the enemy forces. / AFP PHOTO / JUNG Yeon-Je (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN - MARCH 19: A medic in the U.S. Army's 1st Battalion, 36th Infantry Regiment, Charlie Company (R) tends to a soldier who has just survived a blast from an improvised explosive device (IED) while driving a vehicle during a mission near Command Outpost Pa'in Kalay, on March 19, 2013 in Kandahar Province, Maiwand District, Afghanistan. The soldier suffered a concussion from the blast. The United States military and its allies are in the midst of training and transitioning power to the Afghan National Security Forces in order to withdraw from the country by 2014. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
BAGHRAM AIR FIELD, AFGHANISTAN - SEPTEMBER 10: U.S. Army medics load an injured American soldier onto an Air Force jet for evacuation to Landstuhl, Germany on September 10, 2005 from Baghram Air Field, Afghanistan. American casualties in Afghanistan are first treated in the field, then usually moved to the combat hospital in Baghram for further treatment before then being evacuated on flights to Germany and then the United States. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
BANDA ACEH, INDONESIA: A US medic (L) waits to board a US Seahawk helicopter as other soldiers to load relief goods into the helicopter en route for a relief mission in the remote areas of the Aceh province at the military airport in Banda Aceh, 14 January 2005. The United Nations urged Indonesia not to impose a deadline on foreign troops providing relief assistance in tsunami-hit Aceh province, while the US President George W. Bush predicted that US aid would help defeat Islamic extremists. The armed forces of Australia, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore and the United States all rushed units to Aceh in the wake of the December 26 tsunami disaster which killed more than 110,000 Indonesians out of a total of over 163,000 deaths around Asia. AFP PHOTO/Jewel SAMAD (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
402462 10: United States and Canadian Army medics render first aid to an American soldier, who fainted due to altitude sickness, during search and destroy operations against Taliban and al-Qaida fighters March 15, 2002 in the rugged Shah-e-Kot mountains, 25 kilometers (15 miles) southeast of Gardez, Afghanistan. Hundreds of American and Canadian troops were lifted into the mountainous region at high altitude to search for and destroy any enemy they encounter. (Pool Photo/Getty Images)
MARJA, AFGHANISTAN - SEPTEMBER 30: Members of the medical staff at the 31st Combat Support Hospital (CSH) remove Nawa District Governor Abdul Manaf from a MEDEVAC helicopter after he was airlifted to the hospital suffering from chest pains September 30, 2010 near Marja, Afghanistan. The 31st CSH is responsible for treating wounded Afghani and Coalition forces as well as local nationals in Helmand Province. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
MARJA, AFGHANISTAN - SEPTEMBER 29: U.S. Army flight medic SGT Tyrone Jordan (R) of Charlotte, NC of Dustoff Task Force Shadow of the 101st Combat Aviation Brigade helps Marines carry a wounded Afghani man to a MEDEVAC helicopter September 29, 2010 near Marja, Afghanistan. The man had been shot by the Marines during a morning firefight. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
MARJA, AFGHANISTAN - SEPTEMBER 29: U.S. Army flight medic SGT Tyrone Jordan (C) of Charlotte, North Carolina, from Dustoff Task Force Shadow from the 101st Combat Aviation Brigade gives first aid to a prisoner after he was shot by Marines during a morning firefight as Marine LCpl. Kristopher Brown of Fayetteville, North Carolina guards him aboard a MEDEVAC helicopter September 29, 2010 near Marja, Afghanistan. Task Force Shadow is responsible for evacuating wounded Afghani and Coalition forces as well as local nationals throughout southern Afghanistan. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
MARJA, AFGHANISTAN - SEPTEMBER 24: A U.S. Marine comforts a fellow soldier before he lifts off in a MEDEVAC helicopter September 24, 2010 near Marja, Afghanistan. The Marine was wounded by an improvised explosive device (IED) while on patrol. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
MARJA, AFGHANISTAN - SEPTEMBER 23: MEDEVAC helicopter crew chief Thomas Burns (L) of Orange City, FL listens for instructions from flight medic SGT Adam Montavon of Sterling, IL as they try to save the life of a severely wounded Marine aboard a MEDEVAC helicopter September 23, 2010 near Marja, Afghanistan. The Marine later died of his injuries. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
MARJA, AFGHANISTAN - SEPTEMBER 23: U.S. Marines help flight medic SGT Adam Montavon (C) of Sterling, IL carry an injured Afghani man to a MEDEVAC helicopter September 23, 2010 near Marja, Afghanistan. The man came to the Marine base seeking help after he was injured in a motorcycle accident. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
MARJA, AFGHANISTAN - SEPTEMBER 20: A 12-year-old Afghani girl is carried to a MEDEVAC helicopter September 20, 2010 near Marja, Afghanistan. The girl had been grazed in the face by a bullet. Task Force Shadow is responsible for evacuating wounded Afghani and Coalition forces as well as local nationals throughout southern Afghanistan. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
MARJA, AFGHANISTAN - SEPTEMBER 21: Medical staff from the U.S. Army's 31st Combat Support Hospital unload an enemy prisoner of war from a MEDEVAC helicopter after he was shot in the leg September 21, 2010 near Marja, Afghanistan. The 31st Combat Support Hospital provides level three trauma care at Camp Dwyer in Helmand Province in southern Afghanistan. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
MARJA, AFGHANISTAN - SEPTEMBER 18: U.S. Marine LCpl. Joshua Bailes (L) of Mogadore, OH with 2nd BN 4th Marines and U.S. Army medic SGT Tyrone Jordan of Charlotte, NC attached to Dustoff Task Force Shadow of the 101st Combat Aviation Brigade climb into a MEDEVAC helicopter after loading a wounded enemy prisoner of war September 18, 2010 near Marja, Afghanistan. The POW had been shot in both of his legs. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
MARJA, AFGHANISTAN - SEPTEMBER 17: British solders load a wounded Afghanistan National Police (ANP) officer onto a MEDEVAC helicopter September 17, 2010 near Marja, Afghanistan. The policeman was wounded along with two other police officers in an improvised explosive device (IED) attack. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
KHOST, AFGHANISTAN - NOVEMBER 22: Members of the medical team from the 452nd Combat Support Hospital work on a wounded American soldier in the trauma unit at Sunday Olawande Memorial Hospital on forward operating base Salerno November 22, 2009 in Khost, Afghanistan. The soldier was one of two brought in by helicopter with shrapnel injuries from indirect fire. The 452nd is made up mostly of reservists from Minnesota and Wisconsin. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
KHOST, AFGHANISTAN - NOVEMBER 22: Members of the medical team from the 452nd Combat Support Hospital prepare to do a CT scan on a wounded American soldier in the trauma unit at Sunday Olawande Memorial Hospital on forward operating base Salerno November 22, 2009 in Khost, Afghanistan. The soldier was one of two brought in by helicopter with shrapnel injuries from indirect fire. The 452nd is made up mostly of reservists from Minnesota and Wisconsin. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
KHOST, AFGHANISTAN - NOVEMBER 22: Members of the medical team from the 452nd Combat Support Hospital offload a wounded American soldier from a helicopter outside Sunday Olawande Memorial Hospital on forward operating base Salerno November 22, 2009 in Khost, Afghanistan. The soldier was one of two brought in with shrapnel injuries from indirect fire. The 452nd is made up mostly of reservists from Minnesota and Wisconsin. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
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Defense personnel who aren't in sensitive areas will be able to use the GPS applications, if the commanders conclude it doesn't present a risk. For example, troops exercising 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. Troops on missions in more sensitive locations, such as Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan or parts of Africa, meanwhile, would be restricted from using the devices or be required to turn off any location function.

Army Col. Rob Manning, a Pentagon spokesman, said it's a move to ensure the enemy can't easily target U.S. forces.

"It goes back to making sure that we're not giving the enemy an unfair advantage and we're not showcasing the exact locations of our troops worldwide," Manning said.

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.

The Global Heat Map, 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. And while heavily populated areas were well lit, warzones such as Iraq and Syria show scattered pockets of activity that could denote military or government personnel using fitness trackers as they move 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.

This is the second memo affecting the use of cellphones and other electronic devices that the department has released in recent months. In May, defense officials laid out new restrictions for the use of cellphones and other mobile wireless devices inside the Pentagon.

That memo called for stricter adherence to long-held practices that require phones be left in storage containers outside secure areas where sensitive matters are discussed. But it also stopped short of banning the devices, and instead made clear that cellphones can still be used in common areas and other offices in the Pentagon if classified information is not present.

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

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

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