On 3 August 2018, the Deputy Secretary of Defense authored a Memorandum which may outlaw most fitness devices, tablets, applications, and other software used by deployed Soldiers. The Memorandum targets devices, software, and applications that track location data and/or other personal information.
The Memo reads “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 (OAs).” Deployments are included in the term “operational areas.”
Can I use the running app on my phone or my running watch?
The short answer is probably not. The new policy covers “devices, applications, and services with geolocation capabilities (e.g., fitness trackers, smartphones, tablets, smartwatches, and related software applications).” However, the Memorandum gives discretion to Commanders to determine exceptions. It states Commanders, or their designated representative, “may authorize the use of geo-location capabilities on non-government devices, applications, and services in OAs after conducting a threat-based comprehensive Operations Security (OPSEC) survey, in accordance with DoD Directive 5205.02E.”
What if the device, app, or software is not equipped with GPS?
Even if there is no GPS capability, get the device or application approved through your chain of command. While the Memorandum relates to GPS devices, the DoD is also concerned with enemy combatants accessing your personal data. The Memo explains “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 takeaway from the new Memorandum
The safest action is to avoid fitness tracking device and or app that uses location settings while deployed. This includes dating apps that track your city or town. However, if you hope to use an app or device and you have any question about whether it falls under the 3 August Memorandum, be transparent with your command. Before you deploy, show your chain of command the device or application you want to use while deployed. Keep in mind, the new policy target programs and software, not just phones, tablets, fitness trackers, running watches, and FitBits.