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house Bill H.R. 115

Should Diplomatic Staff Be Given Directions About Location-Tracking on Their Consumer Devices?

Argument in favor

Diplomatic and consular staff serve in some of the most dangerous areas of the world, and it’s necessary to update technology policies to keep them as safe as possible. This includes shielding them from the threat posed by location-tracking consumer devices that can reveal their physical locations and movements.

burrkitty's Opinion
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01/10/2019
Certainly if they are being stationed in risky security area, are on covert action, or are deployed to secret locations they need to be briefed.
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David 's Opinion
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01/10/2019
No wall, no wall, no wall. Just like private sector employees are cautioned about personal behavior that reflects on their companies, public employees should have the same standards.
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Jeffrey's Opinion
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01/10/2019
Why would our diplomats not be protected already from this? Just another way that other countries can spy on our diplomats and not leave a big footprint
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Argument opposed

This is a major invasion of diplomatic and consular staff’s autonomy and privacy. Governing their private cellular and internet use is dangerous territory that could lead to overreach into government employees’ personal lives.

JTJ's Opinion
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01/10/2019
Send out a memo, that should take care of it.
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eliyak's Opinion
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01/11/2019
Ridiculous that someone thinks this needs to be a law.
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Jennifer's Opinion
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01/10/2019
This is a major invasion of diplomatic and consular staff’s autonomy and privacy. Governing their private cellular and internet use is dangerous territory that could lead to overreach into government employees’ personal lives.
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bill Progress


  • Not enacted
    The President has not signed this bill
  • The senate has not voted
      senate Committees
      Committee on Foreign Relations
  • The house has not voted
      house Committees
      Committee on Foreign Affairs
    IntroducedJanuary 3rd, 2019

What is House Bill H.R. 115?

This bill — the Protecting Diplomats from Surveillance Through Consumer Devices Act — would require the State Dept. to establish a policy on the use of location-tracking consumer devices at U.S. diplomatic and consular facilities. This policy would apply to federal employees, contractors, and locally employed staff. The State Dept. would be required to report to Congress and brief staff at these facilities about the new policy.

As part of their security briefings, both existing and new employees at U.S. diplomatic and consular facilities would be required to be informed of this policy. They’d also be given instructions on the use of location tracking consumer devices both on and off the premises of U.S. diplomatic and consular facilities.

Impact

Diplomats; diplomatic staff; consular staff; embassies; consulates; Congress; State Dept; and the Secretary of State.

Cost of House Bill H.R. 115

When this bill was introduced in the 115th Congress, the CBO estimated that implementing the bill would cost less than $500,000 over the 2018-2023 period.

More Information

In-DepthRep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX) reintroduced this bill from the 115th Congress to require the State Dept. to account for location-tracking consumer devices in the broader U.S. embassy and consulate security policies:

“Our frontline civilians serve in some of the most dangerous areas of the world, risking their lives to advance United States’ interests and protect U.S. national security. Changing technologies force us to continually adapt our security practices that keep our diplomats as safe as possible, including those posed by location-tracking consumer devices that reveal physical locations and movements abroad. I was glad to reintroduce the Protecting Diplomats Through Consumer Devices Act with my colleague from Texas, Congressman McCaul, which requires the State Department to account for these devices in their broader security policies at embassies and consulates abroad. We must ensure our brave men and women have the protections they deserve, and this legislation does just that.”

In the previous Congress, Rep. Castro introduced this bill when a controversy over fitness app Strava’s release of anonymized user heatmaps in 2017 illuminated the need to ensure that sensitive information about U.S. bases and other operations isn’t compromised through consumer devices’ GPS:

“Every day, diplomats work to advance the interests of the United States often at embassies and consulates in the most dangerous pockets of the world. They risk their lives to be our nation’s frontline civilians, and are faced with having to adapt to changing technologies that often come with security risks—including location-tracking consumer devices that reveal movements around the world. That’s why we introduced the Protecting Diplomats from Surveillance Through Consumer Devices Act, which requires the State Department to account for these devices in the security policies of U.S. embassies and consulates worldwide. As lawmakers, we have a moral responsibility to take all necessary steps to ensure these brave diplomats and development workers have the protections they deserve.”

This bill has three bipartisan cosponsors in the 116th Congress, including two Republicans and one Democrat. In the previous Congress, it passed in the House, and was then reported favorably by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.


Of NoteIn November 2017, Strava, a widely-used app for tracking activity and exercise, released an anonymized heatmap of all its global data. In January 2018, Australian student Nathan Ruser began digging into the data, and found that the Strava data illuminated “a scattering of little-known locations in war zones, where US secret facilities and military bases [had] operations and personnel -- presumably because soldiers and staff [were] unknowingly uploading their fitness tracking data to Strava.

This news led U.S.-led coalition forces to reevaluate their use of fitness trackers, due to fears that enemy forces could use the data to locate troops on the ground. Ned Price, a former special assistant to President Obama, argued that “capable adversaries have almost certainly harvested this [GPS] data for years.

After the Strava incident, Wired writer Jeremy Hsu pointed out:

“[T]he biggest danger may come from potential adversaries figuring out ‘patterns of life,’ by tracking and even identifying military or intelligence agency personnel as they go about their duties or head home after deployment. These digital footprints that echo the real-life steps of individuals underscore a greater challenge to governments and ordinary citizens alike: each person’s connection to online services and personal devices makes it increasingly difficult to keep secrets.”

Forbes contributor Seth Porges went a step further, pointing out that users’ phone and internet habits are making most people “nonstop broadcast beacons”:

“Our phones and Internet habits are nonstop broadcast beacons letting the world know our habits, wants, fears, and desires (not to mention our bank account and Social Security numbers). What's now clear is that even information that seems innocent can, in the right context, be weaponized, with no reason to suspect it won't be in very real ways… Location-dependent apps like Yelp and Foursquare likely know when we're away from home (useful for the burglary inclined). The public-facing Venmo feed might reveal oddly specific elements of our financial habits… And the Strava situation shows that our data doesn't even need to identify us to be weaponized. Companies often publish user information (such as the Strava heat map) under the assumption that anonymous aggregate data is mostly harmless. What Strava shows us is that this is not always the case. Our data is dangerous, and its dangerous in ways that even the people who hold it may not understand. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that Strava wasn't even aware that its data revealed the location of hidden troops.”


Media:

Summary by Lorelei Yang

(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / alexsl)

AKA

Protecting Diplomats from Surveillance Through Consumer Devices Act

Official Title

To require the Department of State to establish a policy regarding the use of location-tracking consumer devices by employees at diplomatic and consular facilities, and for other purposes.

    Certainly if they are being stationed in risky security area, are on covert action, or are deployed to secret locations they need to be briefed.
    Like (11)
    Follow
    Share
    Send out a memo, that should take care of it.
    Like (11)
    Follow
    Share
    Ridiculous that someone thinks this needs to be a law.
    Like (3)
    Follow
    Share
    Why would our diplomats not be protected already from this? Just another way that other countries can spy on our diplomats and not leave a big footprint
    Like (1)
    Follow
    Share
    No wall, no wall, no wall. Just like private sector employees are cautioned about personal behavior that reflects on their companies, public employees should have the same standards.
    Like (1)
    Follow
    Share
    Many, if not most, of the international staff for the US government are given a phone to conduct official business while in country. They are required to keep this phone on them at all times and is one of the best ways to remotely check government email (through government approved programs of course). Location services should already be "on" for these "work" phones as they are tracked often anyway for safety reasons; but monitoring private or personal cell phones? No, I'm against that.
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    This is a major invasion of diplomatic and consular staff’s autonomy and privacy. Governing their private cellular and internet use is dangerous territory that could lead to overreach into government employees’ personal lives.
    Like
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    No, build the wall
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    Vote yes. Staffers need to know how to protect themselves and our country while on the job.
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    Not without two diplomat endorsements. Mr. Castro’s party before people stance coupled with his grade of F on the 2011 Fiscal Responsibility Index, have me a bit gun shy. ⚠️Comprehensive impact summary with endorsements from at least 2 diplomats, followed by a sign off on the budget by whoever is left at the DOA knowledgable.
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    👎🏻
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    This will make sure everyone aboard are safe.
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    This is common sense and should have already been in place.
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