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Mattis won’t ban cellphones from Pentagon; use in secure areas remains restricted

Defense Secretary James N. Mattis, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Gen. Joseph F. Dunford, Jr., brief reporters on the current U.S. air strikes on Syria during a joint press conference at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., Apr. 13, 2018. (U.S. Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith/Department of Defense)

Personal mobile devices including cellphones will not be banned from the Pentagon, but Defense Department guidance released Tuesday stressed that they won’t be allowed in areas containing sensitive material.

Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan largely reinforced long-existing regulations in a memoradum, emphasizing that individuals who bring personal devices – such as cellphones, tablets, laptops, smart watches and other mobile electronics that can connect wirelessly to the internet – into secure locations could face punishment or a ban from the Pentagon.

Military and civilian workers at the Pentagon found to have taken such devices into sensitive locations where classified materials are located or discussed could face “administrative actions, fines or other appropriate actions, and may result in a review of the individual’s security clearance eligibility,” Shanahan wrote in the memorandum. He added that uniformed servicemembers could face criminal punishment under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

The new guidance follows a months-long review ordered in January by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to probe the use of personal communications devices within the Pentagon. An all-out ban of personal devices was under consideration, Pentagon officials acknowledged, but logistical challenges and enforcement issues exist.

Mattis told reporters previously that he was primarily concerned about sensitive information leaving secure rooms after it was recorded audibly or visually by a personal mobile device.

His review became public in January after a GPS tracking company published an online map of fitness tracker data that appeared to reveal locations and activities of American troops in war zones. Defense officials said the review began before the map was published.

According to Tuesday’s memo, fitness trackers can be worn anywhere in the building, as long as they do not have cameras or recorders or the ability to connect via a cellular or wireless internet signal.

Shanahan’s memo said Pentagon law enforcement officials would begin randomly inspecting sensitive locations in the building for personal devices. It also stressed that all secure areas within the building must include storage outside the room where personal devices can be placed. Those devices must be turned off when placed inside storage, Shanahan wrote.

Most cellphones do not receive a signal inside the Pentagon, where about 30,000 military, civilian and contract employees work.

The new procedures go into effect immediately, and officials have six months to fully implement any changes, such as providing storage options.


© 2018 the Stars and Stripes

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