Pentagon to keep allowing cell phones but with strict rules

Defense Secretary James Mattis had ordered the review.

May 22, 2018, 6:17 PM
PHOTO: A man uses a cell phone in an undated stock photo.
A man uses a cell phone in an undated stock photo.
STOCK/Getty Images

The Defense Department has decided it will continue allowing the use of cellphones at the Pentagon, but it will strictly enforce existing rules to prevent cell phones from being brought into secure areas at the nation's military headquarters.

The new policy issued Tuesday is far short of early speculation that Defense Secretary James Mattis might ban all cellphones from the Pentagon.

“Today the Department of Defense announces a policy regarding the use of mobile devices within the Pentagon and supported buildings,” said a Pentagon statement. “The policy, which applies to DoD personnel, contractors, and Pentagon visitors, clarifies restrictions for mobile devices anywhere within the Pentagon designated or accredited for the processing, handling or discussion of classified information."

Late last year Defense Secretary Mattis initiated a review of cellphone use at the Pentagon because of what a U.S. official characterized as ways of improving information security concern in the building.

A memo signed by Patrick Shanahan, the Deputy Secretary of Defense, outlined the new policy that enforces existing requirements that cell phones be placed in small storage boxes or lockers outside of sensitive parts of the building.

Mobile devices are defined in the memo as cell phones, laptops, tablets, smartwatches, and other devices that are portable, can wirelessly transmit or receive information and have a self-contained power source.

"Mobile devices must be stored in daily-use storage containers that are located outside the secure space," said the memo.

The new rules mean there will likely be many more cellphone lockboxes throughout the building in order to comply with the new policy.

The 23,000 military and civilian employees at the Pentagon will still be allowed to bring their personal or work cellphones into the building - although as a practical matter there is no cellphone reception throughout most of the building.

“Mobile devices may be used in common areas and spaces that are not designated or accredited for the processing, handling, or discussion of classified information,” said the memo.

The Defense Department is still updating a separate comprehensive policy for fitness trackers and other wearable electronics that have GPS capability.

That review was triggered in January after it was discovered that a heat map generated by the Strava exercise fitness tracking app identified exercise routes used by U.S. military personnel worldwide, even at some U.S. facilities that were not public.

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