Hat tip to Task and Purpose for this handy public service announcement to our service members.
In the last few weeks, soldiers with the 504th Military Intelligence Brigade and also a Fort Riley battalion got a disturbing briefing: download an app to their personal devices, and then allow their devices to be personally inspected to confirm the app had been downloaded.
According to a source quoted by Task and Purpose, the Ft Riley command sergeant major told soldiers they would not be allowed to leave a safety briefing "until each phone was visually inspected."
Task and Purpose reports the Fort Riley app permissions included "geo locating, access to alter storage on the phone, monitoring calls, and changes to other aspects of…personal phones."
The app for the 504th would allow leaders to keep members current on training schedules and weather updates. But it would also provide soldiers' precise locations, contacts and the ability to modify calendars.
Apparently, soldiers’ concerns about privacy and security trickled up – far enough up that the inspection demands have been dropped.
Task and Purpose says 504 MI BDE officials denied that leadership issued a directive that soldiers' personal phones were to be inspected to ensure that the app was downloaded.
"The command has taken steps to ensure that leaders at all levels understand that soldiers' personal phones cannot be inspected to see if the app was downloaded," the officials said.
Lt. Col. Terence Kelley, spokesperson for the 1st Infantry Division at Fort Riley says, as of now, soldiers are no longer required to download the app because the soldiers' phones "are personal property.”
The intent behind having soldiers download apps to their phones may not have been nefarious, but it is not legal.
The Constitution’s Fourth Amendment protects citizens from unlawful search and seizure – which means you or your property can’t be searched without a warrant or probable cause.
Dwight Stirling, a reserve JAG officer and CEO of the Center for Law and Military Policy confirms “a health and welfare inspection…is not a proper basis to force a service member to reveal the personal contents of a phone. Data on a phone does not endanger personal safety. An act of this type constitutes a search and can only occur if there is probable cause the phone contains evidence of a crime."
Retired Marine Lt. Col. Guy Womack, a military defense attorney based in Houston, said “in a normal setting, civilian or military, if you think someone may have something on their phone and you would like to look at it, if it's a military member you have to get an officer with sufficient authority to authorize a search for that phone, and you can only do that if you can articulate that you have a reasonable belief that a crime has been committed.”
We have enough problems with other countries trying to hack into our intelligence systems and invade our privacy – we reported here about possible security breaches from cameras the Air Force was using stamped “Made in USA” that were actually from China.
But at least for now, your CSM won’t be the one inspecting your phone.