Technology

China imposes smartwatch and wearable tech army ban

China army Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Members of China's two million strong army are banned from wearing unauthorised tech while on duty

China has forbidden its armed forces from wearing internet-connected wearable tech, according to reports.

The People's Liberation Army Daily, the Chinese military's official newspaper, said security concerns had been raised after one recruit had received a smartwatch as a birthday gift.

News site NBC said its sources had confirmed a ban was now in place.

One expert said the move was a natural extension of restrictions already placed by most armies on mobile phones.

The PLA Daily said army leaders had sought the advice of experts last month after being alerted to an incident in which a soldier had tried to use a smartwatch to take a photo of his comrades stationed at the eastern city of Nanjing.

It said the country's agency responsible for protecting state secrets subsequently issued the following decree: "The use of wearables with internet access, location information, and voice-calling functions should be considered a violation of confidential regulations when used by military personnel."

The newspaper reported that teaching materials and warning signs had subsequently been created to ensure that the message was spread among military personnel.

"The moment a soldier puts on a device that can record high-definition audio and video, take photos, and process and transmit data, it's very possible for him or her to be tracked or to reveal military secrets," it added.

A spokeswoman from the UK's Ministry of Defence was unable to provide a statement about its own rules.

But the BBC understands that it does not currently prevent the use of devices that receive or transmit information unless personnel are operating in a security sensitive environment or on operations.

One expert suggested, however, that the rise of wearable tech posed a challenge to military forces across the globe.

"Any self-aware organisation will have measures for operational security," said Peter Quentin, a research fellow at the British defence think tank Rusi.

"Anything that is networked - whether it is in your pocket or on your wrist - can be remotely accessed and exploited by others to provide an advantage to adversaries.

"That can happen inadvertently or be done deliberately, so it needs to be controlled wherever possible.

Image copyright Taobao
Image caption Smartwatches are proving to be popular gifts in China

"It's why you already see leaving of phones outside of areas where sensitive discussions take place."

He added, however, that there could sometimes be benefits from letting soldiers use wearable tech beyond battlefield duties.

Mr Quentin highlighted the case of Our War, a BBC Three documentary series that made use of footage filmed by British troops who had fitted small video cameras to their helmets.

Officials had initially tried to clamp down on the troops' personal use of the kit before it became apparent that the resulting video was useful.

"It helped the Army communicate the realities of the operations in Afghanistan through the soldiers' own eyes, which was very powerful," Mr Quentin said.

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