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11/18/2010
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Air Force Warns Against Location Based Sites

Military says careless use could disclose service members' position to enemy, compromising safety and operations.

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The U.S. Air Force is warning servicemen and women that popular geolocation services such as Facebook Places, Foursquare, Gowalla, and Loopt could inadvertently reveal their position to the enemy.

Where the armed forces once cautioned civilians and enlistees that "loose lips sink ships," today's warning extends beyond the danger of a conversation overhead in a cafe or on the street. In an admonition posted on its internal website earlier this month, the Air Force said "careless use of these services by airmen can have devastating operations security and privacy implications," according to the Associated Press.

In addition, the Air Force sent this message to senior commanders and asked them to spread the word out to their forces, the AP said.

Geolocation sites can identify a user's position on a map. Military officials are concerned that the enemy could use location-based sites' features to track troop members who have smartphones and use those networking services to attack or avoid offensive maneuvers.

Facing the same dangers, next week the U.S. Army plans to send a similar message to key personnel about these location-based sites, according to the AP.

Today, the U.S. military has about 95,000 troops in Afghanistan and approximately 50,000 in Iraq, reports said.

Although Facebook users must check in to a location or visit the mobile Facebook site to check in, the Air Force is worried that careless service use by troops could lead to inadvertent disclosure of military members' positions. In February, the Department of Defense released a policy memorandum regarding the safe and effective use of Internet-based capabilities, including social networking services and other interactive web 2.0 applications.

"Commanders at all levels and heads of DoD components will continue to defend against malicious activity on military information networks, deny access to prohibited content sites (e.g., gambling, pornography, hate-crime related activities), and take immediate and commensurate actions, as required, to safeguard missions (e.g., temporarily limiting access to the Internet to preserve operations security or to address bandwidth constraints)," the DoD said.

The Pentagon has long been attempting to juggle freedom of information, freedom of speech, and protecting the nation's troops and politicians. In February 2009, Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.) tweeted about what was supposed to have been a congressional delegation trip to Iraq.

"Just landed in Baghdad. I believe it may be first time I've had bb service in Iraq. 11th trip here," he posted. Hoekstra continued to keep constituents at home apprised of his movements around Iraq, prompting the Pentagon to reevaluate its policies.

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