DOD cracks down on geolocation devices and services

geospatial app (dolphfyn/

Defense Department personnel can no longer use geolocation features on any device -- personal or government issued -- in areas used for military operations, according to a DOD policy memo released Aug. 6.

In the memo, dated Aug. 3, DOD Deputy Secretary Patrick Shanahan wrote that devices, applications and services with geolocation capabilities pose a significant risk to personnel both on and off duty.

“The rapidly evolving market of devices, applications, and services with geolocation capabilities presents a significant risk to the Department of Defense personnel … and to our military operations globally,” Shanahan wrote.  “These geolocation capabilities can expose personal information, locations, routines, and numbers of Department personnel, and potentially create unintended security consequences and increased risk to the joint force and mission.”

The policy is effective immediately.  It covers operational areas where military operations are conducted, as designated by combatant commanders. The memo instructs commanders to conduct comprehensive, threat-based operations security surveys before designating operational areas.

Commanders can, however, authorize geolocation use on government-issued devices, applications and services if the mission calls for it. Leadership for DOD components must “consider the inherent risks associated with geolocation capabilities on devices, applications, and services, both non-government and government-issued, by personnel both on and off duty,” the memo states.

Additionally, commanders must ensure personnel receive appropriate training regarding the ban. DOD's annual cybersecurity awareness training will also be updated to help personnel identify and understand geolocation risks.

The memo didn’t specify how DOD will handle enforcement or potential violations, but department spokesperson Maj. Audricia Harris told FCW via email that it would be handled on the case-by-case basis.  The policy, she said, is meant to enhance operational security “in support of the broader mission in a balanced way that accounts for legitimate official and personal uses of geolocation technology that do not present an undue security risk.”

Harris said the policy was developed in response to “recent publicized demonstrations” that emphasize the need for “constant refinement of policies and procedures to enhance operations security and the protection of information.”

The memo directs DOD's CIO and the undersecretary for defense intelligence to jointly develop geolocation risk management guidance and training to inform commanders and heads of other DOD components when making risk decisions regarding these devices.

The Defense Information Systems Agency will release the new geolocation risk management guidance and training at

About the Author

Lauren C. Williams is senior editor for FCW and Defense Systems, covering defense and cybersecurity.

Prior to joining FCW, Williams was the tech reporter for ThinkProgress, where she covered everything from internet culture to national security issues. In past positions, Williams covered health care, politics and crime for various publications, including The Seattle Times.

Williams graduated with a master's in journalism from the University of Maryland, College Park and a bachelor's in dietetics from the University of Delaware. She can be contacted at [email protected], or follow her on Twitter @lalaurenista.

Click here for previous articles by Wiliams.


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