While for an ordinary civilian the automatic geotagging of your photos or check-ins might be convenient, in the military it can be a lethal mistake. In 2007, geotagged photos of a new fleet of helicopters allowed enemy forces to mortar the base and destroy several of them; it could just as easily have been a field hospital or barracks.
The Army has therefore published an article calling attention to this fact, though its casual tone suggests that they aren’t ready to take serious action on the issue. A warning is all it is, and perhaps also an acknowledgement that sometimes it’s better to bend with the breeze than fight it.
While soldiers in the field aren’t likely to be checking in to engagements or taking pictures of their fortifications for the kids, such things are still going to happen. Whether it’s enlisted personnel or people like embedded journalists, DoD researchers, civilian contractors, or what have you, the risk of someone posting sensitive information is real. And with the speed of sharing today, such data can propagate rapidly enough that it’s a serious security risk.
The army’s power to control the devices used by its soldiers and those around them is limited. And any attempt at locational lockdown would almost certainly end in failure. Luckily, it can still minimize the risk by making social media part of a soldier’s situational awareness. It’s a testament to the power and reach of social media that it should be entered into tactical calculations.
And while location sharing is framed primarily as a risk today, it’s obvious from the military’s pursuit of smartphones as an integral part of a soldier’s equipment that they value it as a potential asset as well.