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NSA says phone location data poses a national security risk

It's advising military and intelligence workers to turn off location sharing whenever they can.

Published onAugust 4, 2020

  • The NSA has warned personnel that phone location data poses a national security risk.
  • It’s recommending military and intelligence staff turn off location sharing.
  • It also suggests limiting app permissions and even mobile web browsing.

You’re probably aware that it can be risky to share phone location data, but the National Security Agency wants to make that particularly clear to military and intelligence staff.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the NSA has provided guidance to personnel warning them that mobile device location data poses a national security risk inside the government. It can reveal the movement of people and supplies, uncover routines, and disclose “unknown associations” between someone and their location.

Accordingly, the NSA is recommending strict limits on location info. It suggests disabling location sharing services entirely on mobile devices (including lost device services), denying app permissions when possible and disabling ad permissions. Officials also asked users to curb their web browsing and disable location sharing from the web.

Read more: Is selling your privacy for a cheaper phone a good idea?

While the warning covered phones, the NSA also said that wearable devices, medical gear, and other connected technology also included some location sharing. It further warned that a “compromised” device could share location data even after you’ve disabled relevant features.

The alert may seem self-evident if you’re privacy-conscious, but it comes after incidents where military staff inadvertently revealed sensitive location info. Researchers discovered at the start of 2018 that Strava’s public location database was revealing military bases, supply routes, and even secret CIA facilities — people going for runs were unintentionally creating maps.

This warning also comes at a moment when app privacy is foremost on the government’s mind. President Trump has threatened to ban TikTok over concerns its parent company ByteDance might hand over sensitive user data to the Chinese government, including location info. The NSA’s recommendations might not be aimed directly at TikTok (military branches already ban it on their devices), but the move could clearly limit adoption of apps like TikTok across the government.

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