Cellphone Ban at Pentagon Possible after Exercise Tracker Disclosures

An audience member uses his cell phone to record as MoH recipient Navy Senior Chief Edward Byers provides remarks at the Medal of Honor ceremony honoring his heroism at the Pentagon March 1, 2016. (DoD/Senior Master Sgt. Adrian Cadiz)
An audience member uses his cell phone to record as MoH recipient Navy Senior Chief Edward Byers provides remarks at the Medal of Honor ceremony honoring his heroism at the Pentagon March 1, 2016. (DoD/Senior Master Sgt. Adrian Cadiz)

A security review ordered up by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis will consider a possible ban on uniformed and civilian personnel bringing their personal cell phones into the Pentagon, defense officials said Wednesday.

Mattis directed the review on security policies for the use of personal devices to be conducted by Joseph Kernan, the undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence, before news reports surfaced over the weekend detailing how locations and other data from exercise trackers such as Fitbit and Jawbone could be searched online, CNN reported.

"We take threats to security seriously and are always looking into any potential additional measures to further enhance the security of our Department of Defense personnel," Army Maj. Audricia Harris, a Pentagon spokesperson, said in response to a query on the possible phone ban.

The news reports said that troops using wearable exercise trackers could potentially be exposing information on their whereabouts and activities at military bases worldwide.

Although no decisions on cell phone use at the Pentagon were imminent, a similar ban went into effect this month among certain White House staffers in the West Wing.

That ban was put in place to "protect White House information technology infrastructure from compromise and sensitive or classified information from unauthorized access or dissemination," according to a memo obtained by Politico.

On Monday, Army Col. Rob Manning, a Pentagon spokesman said in response to the Fitbit reports that DoD was "reviewing the situation to determine whether any additional training or guidance is required, and if any additional policy must be developed to ensure the safety of DoD personnel, at home and abroad."

Manning was responding to the disclosure that an interactive map found online -- the Global Heat Map, published by the GPS tracking company Strava -- used satellite information to map the locations and movements of subscribers to the company's fitness service.

"DoD personnel are advised to emplace strict privacy settings on wireless technologies and applications" while the policy review is underway, Manning said at a Pentagon briefing.

Without giving details, Manning also said that wearable fitness devices already "are forbidden at specific DoD sites and during specific activities."

When asked if the devices and the interactive map had to date compromised any DoD activities, Manning said "not to my knowledge."

U.S. troops already get routine training on keeping their online profiles low and avoiding the posting of personal photos and information.

Any ban on cell phone use would be enormously difficult to implement at the Pentagon, the world's largest office building where more than 22,000 uniformed and civilian personnel report for work daily. Only limited numbers have access to lockers where they could store their phones.

In addition, cell phone use, with the exception of a few restricted areas, already is all but impossible inside the building since signals don't penetrate. When personnel want to use their phones, they usually go to the courtyard.

Editor's Note: The name of the undersecretary of defense for intelligence has been corrected in the second paragraph.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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